• Lawrence in Arabia

  • War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East 
  • By: Scott Anderson
  • Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner
  • Length: 23 hrs and 45 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (180 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York TimesChristian Science Monitor • NPR • Seattle TimesSt. Louis Dispatch

National Book Critics Circle Finalist - American Library Association Notable Book

A thrilling and revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in 20th century history - the Arab Revolt and the secret “great game” to control the Middle East 

The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War One was, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, “a sideshow of a sideshow.”  Amidst the slaughter in European trenches, the Western combatants paid scant attention to the Middle Eastern theater. As a result, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far removed from the corridors of power. 

Curt Prüfer was an effete academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine role was to foment Islamic jihad against British rule. Aaron Aaronsohn was a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria. William Yale was the fallen scion of the American aristocracy, who traveled the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Standard Oil, dissembling to the Turks in order gain valuable oil concessions. At the center of it all was Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was the most romantic figure of World War One, battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people. 

The intertwined paths of these four men - the schemes they put in place, the battles they fought, the betrayals they endured and committed - mirror the grandeur, intrigue and tragedy of the war in the desert. Prüfer became Germany’s grand spymaster in the Middle East. Aaronsohn constructed an elaborate Jewish spy ring in Palestine, only to have the anti-Semitic and bureaucratically-inept British first ignore and then misuse his organization, at tragic personal cost. Yale would become the only American intelligence agent in the entire Middle East - while still secretly on the payroll of Standard Oil. And the enigmatic Lawrence rode into legend at the head of an Arab army, even as he waged secret war against his own nation’s imperial ambitions. 

Based on years of intensive primary document research, Lawrence in Arabia definitively overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed. Sweeping in its action, keen in its portraiture, acid in its condemnation of the destruction wrought by European colonial plots, this is a book that brilliantly captures the way in which the folly of the past creates the anguish of the present.

©2013 Scott Anderson (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Scott Anderson’s fine, sophisticated, richly detailed Lawrence in Arabia is filled with invaluably complex and fine-tuned information…eminently readable.... For those already fascinated by Lawrence’s exploits and familiar with his written accounts of them, Mr. Anderson’s thoughtful, big-picture version only enriches the story it tells…illuminating.... Beyond having a keen ear for memorable wording, Mr. Anderson has a gift for piecing together the conflicting interests of warring parties.... Lawrence in Arabia is a fascinating book, the best work of military history in recent memory and an illuminating analysis of issues that still loom large today.” (The New York Times

"Thrilling...a work as galvanizing and cinematic as Lean’s masterpiece.... It’s a huge assignment, explaining the modern roots of the region as it emerged from the wreckage of war. But it is one that Anderson handles with panache.... Anderson brilliantly evokes the upheavals and head-spinningly complex politics of an era....His story is character-driven, exhilaratingly so - Prufer, Yale, and Aaronsohn’s stories are richly sketched....shows how individuals both shape history and are, at the same time, helpless before the dictates of great power politics." (The Boston Globe)

“No four-hour movie can do real justice to the bureaucratic fumblings, the myriad spies, heroes and villains, the dense fugue of humanity at its best and worst operating in the Mideast war theater of 1914-17. Thrillingly, Scott Anderson's Lawrence in Arabia (four stars out of four) does exactly that, weaving enormous detail into its 500-plus pages with a propulsive narrative thread” (USA Today

What listeners say about Lawrence in Arabia

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A Comprehensive, Compelling Biography

A big fan of the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, and a history buff, I had high expectations when I chose to listen to this audiobook -- and all my expectations were met.

After what was obviously exhaustive research, Scott Anderson has written a finely detailed, fascinating account of T.E. Lawrence and the era in which he lived. Not only does Anderson answer all the questions I had regarding this remarkable icon of military lore, but he weaves in the stories of other major figures of that time as well, and provides such a comprehensive understanding of the history and politics of the region that I found myself riveted from the first page.

What I came away with was a much deeper understanding of Lawrence, and the realization that, although he was an extremely capable, even remarkable person, he was still, in the end, very human.

Wanting to be a war hero in the Arthurian mold, he viewed his service in the Middle East as a failure, where he had been forced to dupe his military comrades, was personally brutalized, and bore witness to (and was at times complicit in) horrific military atrocities.

The British public adored him, but Lawrence was so disgusted with his military service that he refused to accept a penny in proceeds from the sale of his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and turned down a knighthood from King George V.

His wartime exploits may have turned him into a hero of legend, but for Lawrence himself, the experience was deeply scarring, and he came away from it a traumatized, disillusioned man.

Malcolm Hillgartner's reading of the book is pitch perfect and professional, enhancing the text rather than detracting from it. (I have enjoyed every book I've listened to that was narrated by Hillgartner.)

4 people found this helpful

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Good Historical Review of WWI Middle East

Good review of WW1 Middle East and Ottoman Empire and Lawrence’s role in war and promoting Arabian independence. Helps provide background on events leading to current politics in Middle East. Read as a history lesson which was okay. But LONG - could perhaps have been shorter without losing any of the intended effect.

2 people found this helpful

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mostly about Lawrence

I bought this book seeing its 24 hour run time hoping for a detailed story of Lawrence's life, and while most of the book does involve events and people who interacted with him about half I feel is in no way directly related to Lawrence.

2 people found this helpful

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Detailed Middle East Birthing with Endless Characters ... and Lawrence

Originally I sought this book as a biography of T.E. Lawrence, inspired by Churchill’s praise of him, but also came away with a much better understanding of the formation of modern Middle East countries. The author’s portrait of flamboyant, possibly homosexual, Lawrence is comprehensive, balanced, & fair without hero worship. Wading through many fathoms of detail and an endless stream of characters one learns the deceit of arrogant European countries as they carve up the Ottoman Empire during WW1 while Lawrence bravely protects the interests of the Arabs. Interestingly, the failed British attack of the Ottomans at Gallipoli was attributed to incompetence especially since there was a softer target identified by Lawrence. I was disappointed that the author did not opine where blame lies, whether Churchill who conceived the Gallipoli idea, the generals’ horrendous execution, or Whitehall’s lousy strategy.

2 people found this helpful

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great foundation to understand the middle east

Pulling no punches Lawrence in Arabia uncovers the myths and the political forces that have shaped the middle east. Lawrence is one of the most fascinating and disturbing personalities in history. The author's research is 2nd to none. His ability to compile complex events into a cohesive narrative is nothing short of brilliant. The prose and word choice is first rate. I am richer for reading this epic novel.

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complicated but interesting

Since English is not my native language I found that I needed extra effort and attention to follow the narration. In addition I'm completely ignorant on the geography and history of the once otoman empire. So, I had to constantly rewind or stop the audio and look for the places on google. I'm sure I didn't fully understand all the details in the book, but still I liked it. It doesn't only focus on Lawrence, but other characters as well, and how their actions affected each other. It also talks a little about how the events in the rest of the world affected the area. So, for a complete newbie in the topic it made matters comprehensive and interesting. The narrator speaks clearly, though a bit fast for my taste. He changes voices for each character helping with clarity.

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A Must Read!

This is the first audiobook I have ever been inspired to review. Well written and well researched, this book brings alive aspects of WWI I had only heard hints of before. By interweaving the stories of four key men working for different interests, it is a masterful telling of the tragedy of the 20th century in the Middle East, something all Westerners need to understand today. The narrator does a wonderful job bringing the characters alive.

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beautiful story telling, masterful writing

fantastic narrator, fantastic story, fantastic analysis of Lawrence of Arabia and the fall of the Ottoman Empire

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A historical Shakespearean tragedy.

I do highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to understand the 20th century. The roots of much of the latter half of the 20th century can trace their roots to the first world war. I think, at least in the United States, the second world war overshadows the importance of the First World War. Having served in Afghanistan and Iraq Lawrences stories are very relatable. But his life was ultimately a very sad one. That’s a shame because I think he truly had nothing but the best intentions.

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Masterful Detangling of WW1 Middle East

Narrated very ably by Malcolm Hillgartner, the conversational style of Scott Anderson opens the mysteries of Middle Eastern politics, power plays and outcomes. Following the careers in this war of three disparate men, their aims, successes and failures, Mr Anderson has produced a sweeping, detailed and incisive portrait of the primary and secondary persona, promises kept and promises broken of this alluring and terrible struggle.

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