Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Seven Pillars of Wisdom Book Cover Seven Pillars of Wisdom
T.E. Lawrence
Biography & Autobiography
Penguin UK

Although 'continually and bitterly ashamed' that the Arabs had risen in revolt against the Turks as a result of fraudulent British promises of self-rule, Lawrence led them in a triumphant campaign which revolutionized the art of war. Seven Pillars of Wisdom recreates epic events with extraordinary vividness. In the words of E. M. Forster, 'Round this tent-pole of a military chronicle, T. E. has hung an unexampled fabric of portraits, descriptions, philosophies, emotions, adventures, dreams'. However flawed, Lawrence is one of the twentieth century's most fascinating figures. This is the greatest monument to his character and achievements.

I decided to read this book after viewing the “extras” on the remastered 70th anniversary edition of Lawrence of Arabia. It is a film I saw in the mid 60s and I remember clearly the quicksand scenes and blowing up of trains from my youth. The background to the film suggested a story richer than the film and so I ordered it from Paperchain in Manuka. Over the past two months I have read the book slowly, a chapter or so at a time. It is that kind of book. It makes you think. It leads you to do some research to fill the gaps in your knowledge that you suddenly realise should not be there.

I have really enjoyed the book. It is of the time and its casual racism and British Dominion language serves as a reminder of how thinking changes over time. The book goes a long way to explaining why we have the problems that we now see in the Middle East. 100 years and two World Wars (plus a half dozen localised ones at least) later the world has still not managed to overcome the consequences of colonial power broking and oppression dating from the Crusades and Ottoman Empire in the Levant.

The writing is heroic. It is also very British. If you did not know it was near as reasonable to fact then you would think it was a great adventure story. I have been appalled and amazed by the events described. I have felt resonance in the analysis of the region put forward in the book.

So many what-ifs are presented in the book (albeit often from the perspective of hindsight) that make you think of what might have been and how much suffering the world might have been able to avoid. Then, on reflection, I am reminded that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.