This may have been my favorite book of 2013. Prior to reading this book, everything I knew about T.E. Lawrence came from David Lean’s film, Lawrence of Arabia which I like a lot. The real story is even better and more interesting than the film.
From the outset Anderson admits that Lawrence is a difficult character to know, there is so much mythology about him, both negative and positive. Lawrence himself contributed to the confusion through his own writings that are inconsistent and contradict other eyewitness accounts. Anderson has worked through a lot of source material, often providing the reader with differing accounts of the same event, sharing his conclusions, but allowing the reader to draw her own.
The book begins prior to WWI introducing Lawrence at a young age. His family was reclusive due to his parents’ scandalous romance. As the book moves into the Middle East, it follows three other men who were contemporaries of Lawrence who were operating in the Middle East. Curt Prüfer was a German national and spy who was trying to incite jihad against the British. Aaron Aaronsohn was a Jewish agronomist and Zionist, a spy and a critical figure in the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Anderson also tells the story of an American, William Yale, who worked for Standard Oil. His story is much smaller than the others, but also reflects the outsider role the United States played through much of World War I.