The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War I was, in the
words of T.E. Lawrence, "a sideshow to a sideshow." As a result,
the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by four men far
removed from the corridors of power. Curt Pruefer was an effete
academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine
role was to foment jihad against British rule. Aaron Aaronsohn was
a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of
the Ottoman governor of Palestine. William Yale was the fallen
scion of the American aristocracy, who traveled the Ottoman Empire
on behalf of Standard Oil, dissembling to the Turks in order gain
valuable oil concessions. At the center of it all was Colonel
Thomas Edward Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist
digging ruins in Syria; by 1919 he was riding into legend at the
head of an Arab army, as he fought a rearguard action against his
own government and its imperial ambitions.
Based on four years of intensive primary
document research, Lawrence in Arabia definitively
overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed.
Sweeping in its action, keen in its portraiture, acid in its
condemnation of the destruction wrought by European colonial plots,
this is a book that brilliantly captures the way in which the folly
of the past creates the anguish of the present.