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Publisher's Summary

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York TimesChristian Science Monitor • NPR • Seattle TimesSt. Louis Dispatch

National Book Critics Circle Finalist - American Library Association Notable Book

A thrilling and revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in 20th century history - the Arab Revolt and the secret “great game” to control the Middle East 

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 theater. 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. 

Curt Prüfer was an effete academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine role was to foment Islamic jihad against British rule. Aaron Aaronsohn was a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria. 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 Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was the most romantic figure of World War One, battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people. 

The intertwined paths of these four 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. Prüfer became Germany’s grand spymaster in the Middle East. Aaronsohn constructed an elaborate Jewish spy ring in Palestine, only to have the anti-Semitic and bureaucratically-inept British first ignore and then misuse his organization, at tragic personal cost. Yale would become the only American intelligence agent in the entire Middle East - while still secretly on the payroll of Standard Oil. And the enigmatic Lawrence rode into legend at the head of an Arab army, even as he waged secret war against his own nation’s imperial ambitions. 

Based on 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.

©2013 Scott Anderson (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Thrilling...a work as galvanizing and cinematic as Lean’s masterpiece.... It’s a huge assignment, explaining the modern roots of the region as it emerged from the wreckage of war. But it is one that Anderson handles with panache.... Anderson brilliantly evokes the upheavals and head-spinningly complex politics of an era....His story is character-driven, exhilaratingly so - Prufer, Yale, and Aaronsohn’s stories are richly sketched....shows how individuals both shape history and are, at the same time, helpless before the dictates of great power politics." (The Boston Globe)

“No four-hour movie can do real justice to the bureaucratic fumblings, the myriad spies, heroes and villains, the dense fugue of humanity at its best and worst operating in the Mideast war theater of 1914-17. Thrillingly, Scott Anderson's Lawrence in Arabia (four stars out of four) does exactly that, weaving enormous detail into its 500-plus pages with a propulsive narrative thread” (USA Today

“Scott Anderson’s fine, sophisticated, richly detailed Lawrence in Arabia is filled with invaluably complex and fine-tuned information…eminently readable.... For those already fascinated by Lawrence’s exploits and familiar with his written accounts of them, Mr. Anderson’s thoughtful, big-picture version only enriches the story it tells…illuminating.... Beyond having a keen ear for memorable wording, Mr. Anderson has a gift for piecing together the conflicting interests of warring parties.... Lawrence in Arabia is a fascinating book, the best work of military history in recent memory and an illuminating analysis of issues that still loom large today.” (The New York Times

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A Comprehensive, Compelling Biography

A big fan of the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, and a history buff, I had high expectations when I chose to listen to this audiobook -- and all my expectations were met. After what was obviously exhaustive research, Scott Anderson has written a finely detailed, fascinating account of T.E. Lawrence and the era in which he lived. Not only does Anderson answer all the questions I had regarding this remarkable icon of military lore, but he weaves in the stories of other major figures of that time as well, and provides such a comprehensive understanding of the history and politics of the region that I found myself riveted from the first page. What I came away with was a much deeper understanding of Lawrence, and the realization that, although he was an extremely capable, even remarkable person, he was still, in the end, very human. Wanting to be a war hero in the Arthurian mold, he viewed his service in the Middle East as a failure, where he had been forced to dupe his military comrades, was personally brutalized, and bore witness to (and was at times complicit in) horrific military atrocities. The British public adored him, but Lawrence was so disgusted with his military service that he refused to accept a penny in proceeds from the sale of his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and turned down a knighthood from King George V. His wartime exploits may have turned him into a hero of legend, but for Lawrence himself, the experience was deeply scarring, and he came away from it a traumatized, disillusioned man. Malcolm Hillgartner's reading of the book is pitch perfect and professional, enhancing the text rather than detracting from it. (I have enjoyed every book I've listened to that was narrated by Hillgartner.)

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Great book

A real page turner could not put it down. A great read on why the Middle East is still a mess 100 years later.