An Officer and a Bedouin

Lawrence of Arabia, that romantic, kaffiyeh-wearing, desert-dwelling symbol of Arab nationalism, was nothing more than the ringleader in a sideshow of a sideshow.

Issue: Mar-Apr 2011

Michael Korda, Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (New York: Harper, 2010), 784 pp., $36.00.

THOMAS EDWARD Lawrence, commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia, famously called the Arab Revolt during World War I, which for a time he orchestrated, a “sideshow of a sideshow.” Of course, he was (at least partly) speaking in his customary self-deprecating voice, which he very successfully deployed alongside an even-more-powerful baritone of self-aggrandizement (his memoir of that rebellion, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, is nothing if not self-promoting). Over time, observers began to speak of his wont of “backing into the limelight.” No one ever did it more consummately.

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