Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Pages: 703

This is the story of the real Lawrence of Arabia, as written by Lawrence himself, who helped unify Arab factions against the occupying Turkish army, circa World War I. Lawrence has an historian’s eye for detail, a poet's command of the language, an adventurer's heart, a soldier's great story. He describes the famous guerrilla raids, and train bombings, but also tells of the Arab people and politics with great penetration. Moreover, he is often witty and always aware of the ethical tightrope that the English walked in the Middle East.

Lawrence of Arabia is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I was excited when I discovered this memoir from Lawrence himself. I expected grand adventure and heroic deeds, a bigger than life hero thundering across the desert plains, leading the charge to Arab freedom. This was, however, one of the rare cases where I enjoyed the movie so much more than the book.

Granted this is an important book, a classic of war literature. It was also a long-winded read geared for history buffs of WW1. It was often interesting reading, and at other times dull as dirt. It is often repetitive, frequently boring and disjointed. For instance, the first sixty pages has no action, no dialog, but rather, is a description of all the different tribes of Saudi Arabia, and the blood feuds that separated them.

What I found most interesting was the history of how Saudi Arabia came to being with the help of the British Army, Lawrence, and the thousands of Beduin tribes who somehow stuck together in spite of their tribal differences. It also shows how Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt existed under Turkish Ottoman Empire rule. The fight was against the Turks to regain back their individual countries to the Arabs.

I believe this is a five-star read for history buffs, and for the rest of us, we should enjoy the movie instead. 

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