I negatively reviewed a book called The Key to Lawrence many years ago and the idiot author came after me like his being a complete dick and calling me names would somehow change my review of his and his wife's crappy novel! For all I know he's the one who went around adding an anonymous negative two-line non-review to some of my books on line, but unlike him, I write for myself and I don't care what reviewers say. As it happens, I was right about that novel which has since evidently gone out of print. At that point I had never read TE Lawrence's memoir, but I had seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia (and watched it again recently). It was a good movie, but quite inaccurate in many particulars, but that's movies for you - always over-dramatizing. I'd always intended to read the book which underlay it.
So...I recently picked up the audiobook of The Seven Pillars from the library and it wasn't bad. It was hardly a ripping yarn, but was interesting to me because I like to read historical books which were actually written during the time being described. It's really useful if you intended on writing a book set in that period (which I'm not - not yet anyway!). The odd thing about this book is that the seven pillars go completely un-iterated and Wikipedia provides the reason for that.
I discovered that the title of the book apparently came from the Biblical book of Proverbs, and Lawrence was writing a book about seven great cities of the Middle East, but he abandoned that when war broke out, and he destroyed the manuscript afterwards. He wrote a memoir instead, but retained the title because he liked it so much. Wikipedia reports that he had to write the manuscript for it three times, once because he left the original on a train and it disappeared. What would that be worth now if anyone has it?
The book describes his experiences fighting against the Turks alongside the Arabs during World War One. It is heartfelt. Lawrence really respected and connected with those people. He spoke the language (he'd learned it long before the war began and traveled extensively in Syria, which the French were claiming as a colony - we know how well that worked out for them in Vietnam) and he learned to dress in Arab garb because it worked! In an amused anecdote (it was amusing to him) at the end of this book, he describes how he was mistaken for an Arab while working to improve conditions in a hospital, and he was abused as an Arab by a complete dick of a British officer who clearly had no idea who he was or what he'd done.
After the war, Lawrence, under an assumed name, applied to join the Royal Air Force, but was rejected when the officer interviewing him deemed he was actually applying under an assumed name! That officer was W. E. Johns, who later went on to write the successful 'Biggles' series of novels about an adventurous aviator. Lawrence was successful in joining the RAF, but his tenure was short. When the air force realized who he really was, they kicked him out and instead he joined the tank corps under another assumed name! Eventually he went back to the RAF under his real name. He really wanted to be a soldier, didn't he?!
It was hardly fitting for such a man, and neither was his death. Lawrence was killed at the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, when he swerved his Brough Superior SS100 motorbike to avoid two boys on bicycles. His head injuries resulted in his death six days later. The doctor who treated him was instrumental in promoting the use of helmets for motorbike riders. The accident is how the movie begins.
With a colleague, Lawrence had prepared fresh maps of the Negev desert in 1914 since it was considered to be of strategic importance in wartime. He joined in many Arab raids against the Ottomans, attacking cities and sabotaging railroads, and at one point the Turks offered a substantial reward for his capture (some two million dollars at today's prices). No Arab betrayed him. The Sharif of Mecca had given him the status (and thereby protection) of a son. It was Lawrence's idea to bring down Aqaba from the landward side rather than seaward, and he was successful. After that he could pretty much do no wrong in Arab or British eyes.
It's a pity we don't have that kind of cooperation and understanding with the peoples of the Middle East today, isn't it? I commend this book as a worthy read especially if you've seen the movie and want to get the real skinny.