Reviewed by: Denis Judd
Author: Michael Korda
Price (RRP): £12.99
This book is monumental in every sense, the hardback weighing so much that you risk straining your wrist when reading it. Now out in paperback, however, it should be read by anyone interested in TE Lawrence, the Middle East, British imperialism, confusion over sexual identity, the lure and perils of fame, and that sometimes elusive persona the ‘English eccentric’.
The book has many virtues. Among the chief of these are its clarity and readability, its determination to leave no investigative stone unturned and the extraordinarily thorough research that has gone into its writing. Although such predictions are inevitably a hostage to fortune, it seems to me to richly deserve the description of ‘definitive’.
The paradoxes and confusions of Lawrence’s character are manifold: the fearless military leader who achieved international fame and the shy, retiring, private person behind the headlines; the sexual puritan and the man for whom masochism sometimes brought sexual pleasure; the brilliant writer, diplomat and media personality who reinvented himself as the apparently mundane Aircraftman Shaw.
Korda also reminds us of how the Middle East might have developed had Lawrence’s proposals won favour with Churchill, colonial secretary in 1921. Briefly, they included a greatly enlarged Syria stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, independent Kurdish and Armenian states, a smaller Lebanon and a carefully ring-fenced Palestine.
For better or worse? Alas, there are no answers to that.
Denis Judd’s Empire: The British Imperial Experience from 1765 to the Present has just been published in a revised paperback by IB Tauris