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Lawrence in Arabia

War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

By Scott Anderson
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Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson

Lawrence in Arabia (2013) reveals how a small cast of characters forever changed the Middle East during World War I and the Arab Revolt. At its center was T. E. Lawrence, a brash and untrained young military officer who was torn between two nations and experienced firsthand the broken promises of politics and the horrors of war.

Key idea 1 of 16

Thomas Edward Lawrence’s deep fascination with history led him to the Middle East.

There’s a chance you may know of T. E. Lawrence, the man made famous in the classic movie Lawrence of Arabia. But you probably know less about the formative years of this man who played such a crucial role in the Middle East during World War I.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in 1888. As a middle-class teenager in Oxford, England, he developed an early curiosity in European and Egyptian history, spending most of his free time at the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

In 1909, while working on his senior thesis at Oxford, he embarked on a wildly ambitious project: Lawrence walked throughout Syria, studying every castle built during the Crusades to determine whether the Christians learned about architecture from the Muslims or vice versa.

During this trip, Lawrence was met with great hospitality and quickly fell in love with the Middle East.

The staff at Oxford were so impressed by his thesis that he was invited to stay in the Middle East to help out at an archeological dig for his beloved Ashmolean Museum.

By 1911, he was working in Carchemish, an ancient city located on the border of Turkey and Syria.

He got to know Middle Eastern culture very well and, as one of the heads of the excavation site, he proved himself to be a natural leader.

He frequently wrote home to his family, telling them how he felt right at home in Carchemish: he was earning the respect of the locals through his impressive understanding of their history as well as his ability to work long hours under the blistering desert sun.

Lawrence spent the next three years working in Carchemish, during which time Europe and the Middle East wound up on the brink of World War I.

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