The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller 2014
New York Times top ten bestseller 2014
Amazon.com's Top Ten History Books of the Year 2014
New York Times Book of the Year 2014
The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War One was, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, 'a sideshow of a sideshow'. Amidst the slaughter in European trenches, the Western combatants paid scant attention to the Middle Eastern theatre. As a result, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far removed from the corridors of power.
At the centre of it all was Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people. Operating in the Middle East at the same time, but to wildly different ends, were three other important players: a German attaché, an American oilman and a committed Zionist. The intertwined paths of these four young men - the schemes they put in place, the battles they fought, the betrayals they endured and committed - mirror the grandeur, intrigue and tragedy of the war in the desert.
Justifying this addition to the mountain of works on T.E. Lawrence, fabled war correspondent Anderson (The Man Who Tried to Save the World) reasons that "Lawrence was both eyewitness to and participant in some of the most pivotal events leading to the creation of the modern Middle East... a corner of the earth where even the simplest assertion is dissected and parsed and argued over." Too many biographers of Lawrence, he suggests, have let political biases and academic hobbyhorses overshadow their work. Anderson's own experience in some of the world's most chaotic places allows him to speak with authority in his portrayal, at once critical and appreciative, of Lawrence and other larger-than-life individuals who left their mark on the region. A flair for the dramatic makes even the dullest historical moments redolent of palace intrigue and imperialist hubris. Readers seeking to understand why turmoil has been so omnipresent in the Middle East will benefit from Anderson's easy prose, which makes liberal use of primary sources and research, but reads like a political thriller. The central message seems as relevant today as it was a century ago: revolutions whose success is dependent on the patronage of external powers come at a high price a "loss of autonomy" and an influx of foreign carpetbaggers who show little concern for the inhabitants of the newly "free" land.