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We can pick nits about whether this biography is "authoritative" or "hagiographic", whether an author--an editor himself--praising his subject for allowing friends to offer editorial suggestions should have permitted greater editing of his own text, and whether the amount of research this tome required permits the author to make some guesses about details within. But the one thing that no reader will deny is that this massive life is such a clearly written drama that one fairly races through it. The opening section in particular, when Mr. Korda recounts the main events of the first act of the film with which we are all familiar, matches the cinematic quality of David Lean's masterpiece. And while he straightens out some of the facts--not least that Lawrence was 5'5" and weighed just under 90 pounds by the end of his "revolt in the desert"--Mr. Korda's historical Lawrence emerges no less a hero than Peter O'Toole's movie version, maybe more of one.

My favorite book on the tragedy of the post-WWI Middle East has always been David Fromkin's Peace to End All Peace, but there's no denying that it is much easier to follow the disastrous Imperial machinations of the Brits and French here. And with the sharp focus on Lawrence and the promises he had made his Arab friends and allies, we get an immediate sense of the betrayal that was involved in denying them self-determination.

This betrayal helped to break Lawrence, along with the violence he personally perpetrated, ordered, and witnessed and his disturbingly erotic reaction to being beaten and raped when he was captured by the Turks. He had not begun the War the most stable of men, plagued by the shame of bastardy and the typical psycho-sexual damage resulting from a domineering mother. It all left him with intractable doubts about his own self-worth and when the press and Lowell Thomas turned him into the one unquestioned hero of the War it brought further guilt and shame. He survived the bureaucracy long enough to rectify some of the damage of the Paris Agreement and create two kingdoms for the Hashemites, but then sought obscurity by enlisting in the Air Force and Army under assumed names while he worked on his masterpiece, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and a translation of the Odyssey.

Of course, trying to remain anonymous inevitably proved a futile quest for so famous and physically distinctive a personage. But there are some really winning stories from this period. There are photography classes where the enlisted trainee knew more than the instructors, the briefings he was unexpectedly summoned to where he presented his own case with such knowledge and forethought that the actual briefers were rendered superfluous and the visits to elderly Thomas Hardy and his wife when Lawrence was stationed nearby.

Throughout, Lawrence demonstrates a profound capacity and instinct for friendship, much aided by his prolific letter writing. At the high end, he forged deep and lasting relationships with the likes of Winston Churchill, Lady Astor and George Bernard Shaw and his wife (even taking Shaw as one of his noms de querre and provoking a rumor that he was Shaw's illegitimate son), at the low, fellow enlisted men were protective of him and his Arab comrades loved him. Korda puts paid to allegations that Lawrence was gay, portraying him as so repressed and ascetic as to be almost completely asexual, but he does explore his nutty masochism, which saw him employ the brutish John Bruce to administer beating, supposedly ordered by a third party in an elaborate and nonsensical ruse.

Other reviewers have pointed out one curious flaw in Lawrence's vision for the Middle East, for which he otherwise deserves much praise, that is his failure to take seriously self-determination for the Shi'a. He well understood the threat to the Islamic world that the repressive Wahhabism of the Sa'uds posed and he proposed independent states for the Armenians and the Kurds. But he was content to place a Sunni king over the majority Shi'a population of Iraq. We, of course, have the benefit of hindsight, but reading about the whole series of misguided decisions that the Colonial powers made in the region and recognizing that even the Lawrence, the most insightful of the players, had such massive blindspots, is truly painful. Lawrence helped create the modern Arab world for good and ill. For all his heroism and good intentions, mostly ill.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)


Websites:

Michael Korda Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Michael Korda
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Michael Korda (IMDB)
    -BOOK SITE: Hero (Harper Collins)
    -ENTRY: Korda, Michael 1933– (Encyclopedia.com)
    -EXCERPT: from Hero
    -TRIBUTE: Michael Korda on the Role That Defined Peter O’Toole’s Success DEFINING ROLE: Like the man he famously played, Peter O’Toole, who died Sunday at 81, could never escape his great performance, says the writer of ‘Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.’ (Michael Korda, Jul. 11, 2017, Daily Beast)
    -ESSAY: Why I Write (Michael Korda, Aug 23, 2010, Publishers Weekly)
    -ESSAY: The King of the Deal (Michael Korda, March 1993, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Civil War General (Michael Korda, October 2004, American Heritage)
    -ESSAY: Michael Korda's Top 10 (Michael Korda, 11/29/11, Criterion)
    -ESSAY: Book List by Michael Korda (Michael Korda, The Week)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Lawrence Of Arabia, 'Hero' In The Middle East (November 18, 2010, NPR: Talk of the Nation
    -VIDEO: Michael Korda recounts the life of Lawrence of Arabia (Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, NOVEMBER 30, 2010)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: HERO - Lawrence of Arabia: Author Michael Korda discusses his new book on the myth and reality of Lawrence of Arabia (PBS: The Open Mind, 11/20/10)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Joe speaks with Michael Korda about his book, Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (Joe Donahue, WAMC: Reveal)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Meet the Author (Michael Korda, Mar 22, 2013, Darien Library)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: In Depth with Michael Korda: Michael Korda talked about his career in the publishing industry and his book, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee. (C-SPAN: Book-TV, NOVEMBER 2, 2014)
    -INTERVIEW: VIDEO INTELLIGENCE: THE RI INTERVIEW WITH “HERO” AUTHOR MICHAEL KORDA (Rural Intelligence, Dec 8, 2010)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (WNYC, Nov 29, 2010)
    -INTERVIEW: THE CHARMED LIFE: A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL KORDA (Interview by Rob Couteau, Rain Taxi)
    -
   
-PROFILE: Big-Shot Editor Michael Korda Writes of Power, Success and Charmed Lives (Andrea Chambers, December 17, 1979, People)
    -PROFILE: MICHAEL KORDA: SUCCESS IS IMPORTANT (Tony Schwartz, June 27, 1982, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: THE ORDEAL OF MICHAEL KORDA (James Brady, March 11, 1996., Ad Age)
    -PROFILE: Korda's dream home, dream life and dream wife (Tracie Rozhon, May 26, 2001, New York Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (Charlie Rose)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (Fresh Air)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (American Heritage)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (C-SPAN)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (Daily Beast)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (NPR)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Michael Korda (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda (Joseph Bottom, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (David Pryce-Jones, Standpoint)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Brad Gooch, Daily Beast)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Tim Ruten, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Anne Bartlett, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Sholto Byrnes, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Christopher Hart, Times uk)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Peter Lewis, Daily Mail)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Nicholas Shakespeare, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Erik Spanberg, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Dr. Lydia Pyne, NY Journal of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (T.E. Lawrence: a Biographical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Ben McIntyre, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Pam Norfolk, Lancashire Post)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Country Life)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Denis Judd, History Extra)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (David Shribman, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Ann Levin, AP)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (John Rossi, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Stephen Frater, Herald Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Chris Doelle, Riding with the Windows Down)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Frederick J. Chiaventone, Armchair General
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Jamie Arbuckle, Peacehawks)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Hrayr Berberoglu, wines World)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (The Week)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Kerry Pettis, Broomfield Enterprise)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (CAROLYN MCDOWALL, Culture Concept Circle)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein, Small Wars Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Hero (David Walton, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
    -REVIEW: of Ike: An American Hero by Michael Korda (USA Today)
    -REVIEW: of Ike (David A. Nichols, The Historian)
    -REVIEW: of Ike (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Ike (Steve Weinberg, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Ike (Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs)
    -REVIEW: of Making the List by Michael Korda (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Another Life by Michael Korda (Complete Review)

Book-related and General Links:


T. E. Lawrence

    -WIKIPEDIA: T.E. Lawrence
    -WIKIPEDIA: Seven Pillars of Wisdom
    -ETEXT: Seven Pillars of wisdom (Project Gutenberg)
    -ENTRY: T.E. Lawrence British scholar and military officer (Stanley Weintraub, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -BOOK REVIEW: How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: Elizabeth Thompson's book examines how the West subverted democracy in the Arab world. (Josh Ruebner, 25 August, 2020, New Arab)
    -ARCHIVES: T. E. Lawrence (Internet Archives)
    -T. E. Lawrence Society
    -T. E. Lawrence Studies
    -EXHIBIT: Lowell Thomas and T.E. Lawrence Making a Legend, Creating History (CLIO)
    -T.E. Lawrence: a Biographical Review
    -OBIT: Strategist of the Desert Dies in Military Hospital: Lord Allenby's tribute - "Valued comrade" (The Guardian, 19 May 1935)
    -ESSAY: The Legend of Lawrence of Arabia: The Recalcitrant Hero: ?With the benefit of hindsight, there is something superhuman about his character. However, more than almost anyone else, Lawrence embodies the transformation from hero to anti-hero that shaped literature in the twentieth century. (Stefan Weidner, Qantara)
    -ESSAY: T.E. Lawrence: The Enigmatic Lawrence of Arabia: T.E. Lawrence turned Arab Bedouin tribes into a powerful guerrilla army against the Turks, then fought to get them justice from Britain. (O'Brien Browne, History Net)
    -ESSAY: What are the Seven Pillars of Wisdom? (Matthew Rettino, Feb 6, 2016, Medium)
    -ESSAY: Lawrence of Judea: T. E. Lawrence and the Deal of the Twentieth Century (Rick Richman, Spring 2020, Jewish Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Lawrence of Arabia: a man in flight from himself: As Howard Brenton’s play about TE Lawrence opens in London, William Boyd discovers that the truth about this complicated man is more elusive and interesting than the Hollywood myth (William Boyd, 29 Apr 2016, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Lawrence of Arabia wouldn’t have been surprised by the rise of Isis: TE Lawrence was always angry about the British betrayal of the Arabs in the Sykes-Picot agreement. A century on, the borders it established are falling apart (Giles Fraser, 8 Apr 2016, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: The True Story of Lawrence of Arabia: His daring raids in World War I made him a legend. But in the Middle East today, the desert warrior’s legacy is written in sand (Scott Anderson, JULY 2014, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)
    -ESSAY: Seven Pillars of Fiction: The British committed vast quantities of materiel and men to fighting in the Middle East during World War I. How did an archaeologist with no military training get all the credit? (Efraim Karsh, Aug. 9, 2013, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: The Confessions of T. E. Lawrence: The Sadomasochistic Hero (Thomas J. O'Donnell, Summer 1977, American Imago)
    -ESSAY: Manuscript reveals dark side of Lawrence of Arabia's sex life (Matthew Beard, 31 January 2004, Independent)
    -ARCHIVES: T. E. Lawrence (The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Lawrence of Arabia’s War: The Arabs, the British and the Remaking of the Middle East in WWI by Neil Faulkner (Justin Marozzi, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of The Secret Lives Of Lawrence of Arabia by Philip Knightley and Colin Simpson (Stanley Weintraub, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of 'Lawrence in Arabia' by Scott Anderson (JOSEPH BERTON, Chicago Tribune)

FILM


    -FILMOGRAPHY: Lawrence of Arabia (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Lawrence of Arabia (Metacritic)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Lawrence of Arabia (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -The Making of Lawrence of Arabia (BAFTA)
    -FIMOGRAPHY: David Lean (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: David Lean
    -ENTRY: Lean, David (Encyclopedia.com)
    -ENTRY: David Lean British director and cinematographer (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ESSAY: The epic legacy of David Lean: Few directors have used the big canvas of the cinema screen so brilliantly, but, as the BFI in London marks the centenary of his birth with a season of all of his films, Andrew Collins argues that the film-maker's real genius lies in the small details (Andrew Collins, 4 May 2008, The Guardian)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Peter O'Toole (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Peter O'Toole
    -PROFILE: Peter O'Toole on the Ould Sod: A star comes home. (Gay Talese, AUGUST 1963, Esquire)
    -TRIBUTE: Michael Korda on the Role That Defined Peter O’Toole’s Success DEFINING ROLE: Like the man he famously played, Peter O’Toole, who died Sunday at 81, could never escape his great performance, says the writer of ‘Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.’ (Michael Korda, Jul. 11, 2017, Daily Beast)
    -ENTRY: Peter O'Toole Irish actor (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ESSAY: Filming T.E. Lawrence: Korda's lost epics (Cull, Nicholas J., Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television)
    -ESSAY: Lawrence of Arabia — The History of a Film (Steve Newman, May 28, 2018, Medium)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Lawrence of Arabia (IMDB)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Brian Eggert, Deep Focus Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Matt Thrift, Little White Lies)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (John Hollon, TLNT)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia ()
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Janet Moat, Screen Online)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Andrew Pretipin, World on Fire)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Bosley Crowther, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (National Catholic Register)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Roger Ebert)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Empire)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Rohan Moreby, Flickering Myth)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Larsen on Film)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Marco Lanzagorta, Pop Matters)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Kyle Smith, National Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Armond White, National Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: Lawrence of Arabia (Wonders in the Dark)
    -REVIEW: of David Lean: A Biography by Kevin Brownlow (Jack Beatty, The Atlantic)