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Remembered Today:

Seven Pillars of Wisdom


Jon6640
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Having just bought both volumes from a well known internet based auction site I was wondering if any other pals had read the books and what they thought of them.

Jon

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Having just bought both volumes from a well known internet based auction site I was wondering if any other pals had read the books and what they thought of them.

Jon

Great topic, Jon 6640.

I have just bought the book myself and since it is quite a read, I would like to get some input on the quality and readability of the book before I set off.

In the meantime, here is some information on Lawrence, from a Dutch World War One forum. Many comments are in English though...

http://www.forumeerstewereldoorlog.nl/viewtopic.php?t=2805

http://www.forumeerstewereldoorlog.nl/viewtopic.php?t=266

http://www.forumeerstewereldoorlog.nl/viewtopic.php?t=7027

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Like much of his life the books are very imagnative!

I am wondering whether this is positive or negative, David Filsell!

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I am wondering whether this is positive or negative, David Filsell!

Considered by some to be one of the best fictional works of the Great War. :rolleyes:

Paul

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Considered by some to be one of the best fictional works of the Great War. :rolleyes:

Paul

Really? :unsure: Is it all fiction then?

But it obviously is still a good read then, Paul Hederer?

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Jon

Ignore the cynics - they were not there. Make a judgement later.

Enjoy the read - the book's strength lies in the description of the ground, the men that fought over it & how they moved & survived.

Harry

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Not actually sure if my comment was praise or criticism, because after much reading I still don't know what to make of the enigmatic Colonel Lawrence. But the Arab view, and that of some Brits who were there is that their is some highly imaginative writing in Seven Pillars. Having said that my boyhood heros were Lawrence, Scot (of the Antarctic), Charles Lindberg and Henry Williamson (and of course Biggles) - all like, the rest of us,  Flawed.  Seven Pillers it must be said is not exactly an easy read either, although much admired by many like Graves and Williamson. Paying money and taking your choice is I suppose the safest bet.

Edited by David Filsell
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I have the The Seven Pillars in one volume - extremely thin paper!

Read it a number of times. It is not an easy read. Found that if I read it for a bit, then put it down for a few days and went back to it, it was difficult to remember what happened - it is so detailed.

Like bushfighter (Harry) said it is very much about the ground, the men that fought over it and how they moved and survived.

Definitely not a quick read, so be patient.

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Memoir is not history - Lawrence is talking about many things at many levels. He is also making some political points. He must also be very careful since he was .... ahem ... involved ... with many of the characters involved. I found the book enjoyable but not the same as other war memoirs ... read it and report back...

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It's strange but I never think of Seven Pillars as a WW1 book. I class it along with other great books about the Arabs and the desert peoples. Burton etc. I think that anyone who wants to read great British books ought to read this. Marvelous story and anyone who doesn't read it is the poorer for that omission. I envy you. I wish I was reading it for the first time.

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A few Years Ago some Ex SAS Men Repeated Lawrences Journeys using exactly the Transport Lawrence would have had at His Disposal,and found that many of Lawrences wild Claims to Have covered Certain Distances in Times given were simply not Possible,even Today.The Actual Book itself i found to be a VERY laborious Read bordering on Mind Numbing TediumThats My Opinion,One Mans Meat and all that,etc,etc....

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A good book on Arabia (not WW1) is Doughty's 'Arabia Deserta' . Again, not an easy read but one that influenced TEL and others.

Edwin

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I once spent some time as programme manager for the computer and comms systems for a large refinery being built near Rabigh which is were Lawrence was based. I took the opportunity to take a look at some of the places that he described in SPoW (I'd first read the book when about 10 and then again about ten tears later when I understood it a bit better). Based on what I saw I would be very careful about assuming that it represents an acurate picture of 'the ground' (as said elsewhere in this thread) - he seems to have been prone to exageration and romanticising (after all how many of his readership in the mid war period would get the chance to check up?) Some of the Saudis I worked with expressed a similar view of his portrayal of the people involved. I think this topic is already covered at some length in a thread some time ago.

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The general consenus seems to be that Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a work of FACTION - factually based with enough embroidery to fictionalise elements. But aren't all autobiographies (and many authorised biographies) guilty of this to greater or lesser degrees? How many tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Doesn't everyone look back on their own lives from a subjective point of view?

Who's to say what went on in Lawrence's mind? Apparently, the first draft, ten books long, was written from Lawrence's extensive notes taken during the campaign - eight of these draft manuscripts being subsequently lost forever on Reading railway station (after his notes had been destroyed). He then set about re-writing the whole thing from memory. Prone to exageration and romanticism he may have been - but the end result of the arab revolt, and Lawrence's vital role in propagating and, in effect, leading it is not in any serious doubt.

Like everyone else, Lawrence was flawed. Like all great leaders, Lawrence's flaws were perhaps far greater than those of ordinary men. The man was certainly a conundrum - at the height of his fame, he disappears and joins the RAF and Tank Regiment as a lowly ranker, not much for him to exagerate and romaticise about there, or perhaps there was in his own mind? Perhaps greatness and genius carry a price - in that, in order for us all to benefit from the leadership of great men we have to accept them warts and all? And accept that many so-called facts are perhaps elusive and somewhat delusory, made so by one's own point of view?

Cheers - salesie.

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I think he was a B*********R with out Doubt,Who after all can confirm His Claims ???..the whole scenario Poohs to High Heaven,especially the bit about Him losing His Written Documents on a Train for Gods Sakes ?.Granted He was instrumental in Leading the Arab Revolt,but He has never sat well in my Opinion.As for being a Great Leader....Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

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The general consenus seems to be that Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a work of FACTION - factually based with enough embroidery to fictionalise elements. But aren't all autobiographies (and many authorised biographies) guilty of this to greater or lesser degrees? How many tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Doesn't everyone look back on their own lives from a subjective point of view?

Yes but SPoW appears to be particularly self serving and he even appropiates other mens deeds for his own - some of his long distance journeys appear 'stolen' from Leachman's account of journeys he undertook

Who's to say what went on in Lawrence's mind? Apparently, the first draft, ten books long, was written from Lawrence's extensive notes taken during the campaign - eight of these draft manuscripts being subsequently lost forever on Reading railway station (after his notes had been destroyed). He then set about re-writing the whole thing from memory. Prone to exageration and romanticism he may have been - but the end result of the arab revolt, and Lawrence's vital role in propagating and, in effect, leading it is not in any serious doubt.

Oh yes it is. The seeds for the revolt were laid long before Lawrence came on the seen (indeed even before 1914) with a number of British officers, led by Gerald Leachman, involved. secret meetings were being held with the house of Saud in Riyadh (then a minor village) and Bahrain. The scope of the revolt extended far beyond the area covered in SPoW including the East of the Arabian peninsular and what is today Western Iraq. Lawrence had nothing whatsover to do withany of this (apart from an abortive trip to Iraq in 1915, where he had to rely on Leachman to move him through the Turkish lines, when he promised much and delivered nothing and almost got him self sent back to Britain). None of this other activity is covered in SPoW. Lawrence tends to exagerate his part and he didn't lead the revolt. Saudi historians place him as an advisor

Like everyone else, Lawrence was flawed. Like all great leaders, Lawrence's flaws were perhaps far greater than those of ordinary men. The man was certainly a conundrum - at the height of his fame, he disappears and joins the RAF and Tank Regiment as a lowly ranker, not much for him to exagerate and romaticise about there, or perhaps there was in his own mind? Perhaps greatness and genius carry a price - in that, in order for us all to benefit from the leadership of great men we have to accept them warts and all? And accept that many so-called facts are perhaps elusive and somewhat delusory, made so by one's own point of view?

In the past I've spoken with people (including my late grandmother) who met him in his RAF days. I think I can sum up the general opinion that he remained extremely arrogant 'swanning around as if he were still an officer whilst disclaiming any responsibility due to his lowly rank'

Cheers - salesie.

Still it is a ripping yarn

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Point of view driven by personal taste is at work again. I know that Lawrence was officially an advisor, that's why I preceded led the revolt with in effect.

I ask myself this - without the catalyst that was Lawrence, would the Arab revolt have been as widespread and as successful as it was? My conclusion is no, others have the opposite view - the real answer is, we'll never have a definitive answer to such an hypothesis.

After WW1, an American journalist, Lowell Thomas, toured Britain and the Empire giving a slide-show about Lawrence’s achievements. The romantic story of Lawrence's campaigns in Arabia appealed strongly to a British public sated with horrific accounts of trench warfare on the Western Front. From this, grew the legend of 'Lawrence of Arabia'. After that, the facts of Lawrence's war-adventures were often obscured by myth (some of Lawrence's own making). And, even today, his reputation is a favourite target for popular controversialists. But, when the secret archives of the Middle East campaigns were finally released in the 1960s and '70s, they showed that Lawrence's service with the Arabs was perhaps no less remarkable than the legend.

Should he be appraised as a writer or a man of action? The verdict remains open. Other men of action marked history more deeply; other writers earned higher acclaim; yet few combined both practical and intellectual achievements to the degree that Lawrence did. That intriguing combination has helped to sustain a fascination with his life.

I have no wish to defend the man - read about him and draw your own conclusions. My main point in all of this, is that any so-called factual book, especially an autobiography, is a mixture of fact and fiction, brought about by point of view, personal taste, flawed memory, exaggeration, romantic notions etc. bringing forth differing interpretations from its readers (neither writer nor reader exists in a vacuum, and neither is immune to such human frailties - no matter how much they delude themselves that they are). I'm happy, from the responses to my initial post, that my point is well made.

Cheers - salesie.

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Ladies and/or gentlemen,

Thank you very much for your input.

I'll give it a go and report back to you... before 2010, I promise... ;)

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Far more readable is TEL's book describing life as a recruit in the RAF after the war - "The Mint" - unabridged version gives the full flavour of barrack room language. From a WW1 point of view it is interesting as he describes some old sweats from the Great War joining up and mixing with some ex officers who had found life hard in civvy street - and how the two opposites were knocked into a corporate whole.

Edwin

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  • 9 years later...

I've just finished reading this and found it fascinating, if a little "wordy" which has made it feel more like doing my homework than having an enjoyable read. Although it is an enjoyable read. Almost more enjoyable than the prose are the excellent drawings of many of the main participants in the account. These are not Lawrence's work but that of a variety of artists, although most are by a man called Kennington who, presumably, must have worked from photographs. As I suspect many others did, I read it constantly recalling the film starring Peter O'Toole who did, indeed, have a likeness to Lawrence. The pages generally carry dates, so anyone with interest in separating fact from fiction (not me) could presumably use this for some checking against other sources. It's less an account of Lawrence's war, than of his day-to-day relationship with his Arab comrades.

 

My volume dates to 1935, the year of its publication for general public sale. It's sat on my bookshelves, unopened, for at least the last 35 years and I've no idea when it was last read. Maybe not since 1935 when it was purchased by my grandfather, Herbert Hartley - older brother of Benjamin, mentioned in my signature. As he apparently did with all his volumes, there's a bookplate stuck on the inside cover. it depicts a stag on a bit of scrubland - it took me a while, years ago, to realise that it actually depicts a "hart" on a "ley".

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Good to this old friend of a thread back. It's worth hunting down copies of Richard Aldington's caustic book on TEL as well that on the conspiracy led by the great man's brother, his literary executor, to prevent its publication and successfully ruin Aldington's reputation.

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My long fascination with Lawrence started at school, As the years have passed, my views on TEL have become more and more sceptical.

For those interested the  myths and the realities of TEL, the book in which Aldington sought to set the TEL record straight (and concluding that he was "a charlatan, a poseur and fraud") is Lawrence of Arabia; A Biographical Enquiry. 

The work of investigation about Aldington's work of Lawrentian investigation was titled A cautionary Tale: Richard Aldington and Lawrence of Arabia by Fred D Crawford.

The the attempts to prevent publication of the critical work - and blackguard Aldington and his views, amongst others,  included the efforts of Liddell Hart  a man over keen on corsets it is claimed), Graves (another Lawrence biographer) and A E Lawrence  (TEL's brother and literary executor) none of whom could or should be regarded as unbiased in maintaining the 'Lawrence legend'.

Key also to the debate is the 1966 work of Suleimann Mousa, the first Arab view in English of TEL, which claims, I think accurately, that  TEL's role  "... exaggerated his part in the Arab Revolt and failed to do justice to the Arabs themselves". It includes an interesting rebuttal of the work of AE Lawrence.. 

These, amongst other more recent works, certainly draw me to the conclusion that, fine writing though Seven Pillars may be, particular since it was so rapidly re-written!, it is a work in which fiction parallels fact whose author was an extremely strange individual indeed.

Edited by David Filsell
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