Lawrence of Arabia’s War: The Arabs, the British and the Remaking of the Middle East in WWI, by Neil Faulkner, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2016, $37.50
Published on the centennial of the World War I Arab Revolt, Lawrence of Arabia’s War sheds new light on British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence’s role in the conflicts that established the boundaries of the present-day Middle East. The epic story of an epic figure, this 552-page volume is the culmination of a decade of field research in Jordan by the Archaeological Institute of America’s Great Arab Revolt Project and a fresh study of the campaigns that raged in the Middle East during the war. Lawrence himself recorded the story in his classic war memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It is fortunate he did, as Arab participants kept no such written records, and Turkish sources remain closed, most likely to conceal the genocide of the Armenian people.
While participating in a 1914 British military survey of the Sinai Peninsula, Lawrence took careful note of the conditions. “I can travel on a thistle and sleep in a cloak on the ground,” he wrote to a friend. “It shows how easy it is in an absolutely deserted country to defy a government.”
In the early years of the war Lawrence, aside from a brief foray to Mesopotamia, was essentially deskbound in Cairo—“nailed within that office,” as he put it. That changed in October 1916 when his superiors sent him first to the Hejaz region, along the west coast of the Red Sea, and then on a 100-mile journey inland to find the Hashemite Emir Faisal, “the leader alone needed to make the Arab Revolt win through to a success.”
The close bond that developed between the British officer and the future king of both Syria and Iraq helped propel the Arabs to decisive victory in Damascus in October 1918. Lawrence of Arabia’s War is a thorough history of a legendary military campaign, the end of the Ottoman empire and the rise of Arab nationalism.