Lawrence of Arabia

I’m on a bit of a biography kick right now. It’s one of my favorite genres, and when practised well is, in my opinion, full of opportunities for personal growth and understanding.

Backing into the Limelight: a Biography of T.E. Lawrence is the story of Lawrence of Arabia, a fascinating, conflicted figure, by Michael Yardley.

Lawrence was perhaps the first media celebrity … a figure in a sense created by the media (in fact, specific persons within that nebulous, amorphous term) and, perhaps, destroyed by the media. While Lawrence wanted fame all his young life, he fled from it most of his adult life.

After showing real pluck in the genuine British colonial soldier/academic/spy tradition in Arabia, Syria, and other middle eastern countries during World War I, Lawrence became a celebrity largely due to the efforts of American journalist and travelogue writer Lowell Thomas, who invented the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ persona through which T.E. became known to the public. (In fact, I’m sure that much of the Indiana Jones character was derived, even if unconsciously, from characters like T.E. Lawrence.)

But as the spotlight captured him, it also in a very real sense destroyed him.

Lawrence struggled with depression, probably homosexuality, and certainly low self-esteem, and after returning to England after the war, sought a sequence of low-profile positions: army private, air force mechanic. His friends and family had difficulty understanding his withdrawal from public and – to them – productive life.

And yet his accomplishments were significant.

Among the most important is that, without Lawrence, there probably would not be a country of Jordan today. Impressive, considering that Jordan is one of the most moderate, progressive Arab nations.