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T.E. Lawrence: Arabian dreamer 
 
T.E. Lawrence was courageous, capable and unexpectedly tough for an intellectual not quite five and a half feet in height. He seemed destined for a successful academic career in Oxford, the city of his childhood. Instead the First World War gave him the chance to accompany Bedouin in Arabia in their uprising against their Ottoman overlords. It was not Lawrence's fault that many people needed someone whose war service seemed a glorious freewheeling adventure very different from trench warfare in Flanders. Skilled publicists fashioned a myth out of this. Churchill, Bernard Shaw and King George V were among those who suspended their usual critical spirit and indulged him. Seven Pillars of Wisdom gives Lawrence's own account of the desert campaign. In that peculiar example of special pleading, he couldn't quite decide whether he had done well or badly. Which is why the myth around him survives. 

Michael Korda is an experienced biographer but his purpose in Hero is to substantiate the myth. Substituting hero-worship for rational analysis, he asserts every few pages that Lawrence was exceptional. No claim is too far-fetched. Lawrence is compared to Napoleon as a strategist and military genius whose ideas of irregular warfare influenced Mao and Castro.  As a writer, he is the equal of Tolstoy and Hemingway. In politics, diplomacy, aesthetics, sailing, photography, geology, carpets, engines, even commercial development and agriculture, Lawrence is supposed to display an astonishing accumulation of knowledge and mastery of every detail.

However, Lawrence's role in the Middle East cannot be reduced to the same kind of froth as that about him conjuring kings and countries out of nowhere and nothing. The entry of Ottoman Turkey into the First War on the side of Germany had brought the future of its Arab subjects into question. The British government concluded that an Arab rebellion could hasten an Ottoman collapse. By the same token, Sherif Hussein of Mecca and several other Arab tribal chiefs perceived that they might extend their power and even establish an independent Arab kingdom if the British were to help them to do so with arms and crates of gold sovereigns. Each party hoped to take advantage of the other, but the Arabs were far more experienced and wily than their British counterparts. The Sherif was careful to stay secretly in touch with the Turks until he was convinced that a British-backed rebellion would pay off.
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