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War as epic poetry
am 6. Dezember 1999
This book stands alone in the history of military memoirs. The book as a literary achievement and the subject of the book as a personal achievement are both unparalleled. What Lawrence did in WWI - unite the Arab tribes in a common fight against the Turks - was remarkable not only because no one thought it could be done but also because it was done by a man with no power or influence beyond what he could inspire by his own presense. Lawrence, a scholar before the war working as a mapmaker for the British army, was about as far removed from anyone's ideas of a military hero as could be. He nevertheless did the impossible and that story, no matter who tells it, is as fascinating as any that ever came out of warfare.
Equally fascinating is the book itself. A blend of truth and evasion, the book is told in a beautiful lazy style that suggests it had been thought out with the vast Arabian desert and ancient way of life in mind. It is helpful to have read another account of Lawrence's life, just to be sure of what is happening when he chooses to be vague, but the beauty of the writing and the insight of the keen intelligence from which it springs, is a great delight to experience.
Even more amazing is to realize that after this monumental book was completed, Lawrence left the complete manuscript - the only copy - on the London subway and had to recreate it from scratch using just his notes. This is a remarkable testiment to both his focus when he needed it, and his tendency to be frequently apart from the real world. A remarkable man. A remarkable book. Unique and worthy to be read and enjoyed.