At 5 feet 5 inches and barely 135 pounds, Thomas Edward Lawrence did not exactly cut the figure of a likely warrior. Yet this “extraordinary pipsqueak,” as one official called him, blazed a trail through the Middle East during the First World War, playing a pivotal role in the Arab Revolt as adviser, tactician, and guerrilla leader. In a conflict that maimed and destroyed a generation of young men, Lawrence, who lost two brothers in the fighting, emerged from the Great War as a hero of heroes. Even if he wanted none of it — he spent his postwar years trying to hide from his fame — his legend grew, years later embellished and forever imprinted on the popular imagination by David Lean’s 1962 film, “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Lawrence has been debated and debunked; worshiped and condemned; blamed and praised for his actions in scores of biographies and historical studies. In journalist Scott Anderson’s thrilling new book, “Lawrence in Arabia,” a work as galvanizing and cinematic as Lean’s masterpiece, Lawrence again takes center stage in an account that moves from the halls of power in London to the crowded streets of Cairo to the vast desert wastes of the Arabian peninsula.