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In our pages: A new look at Lawrence of Arabia

December 16, 2010 | 11:43 am

Hero_korda Lawrence of Arabia may have been immortalized in the 1962 film directed by David Lean and starring Peter O'Toole, but a new biography is worth readers' time, our reviewer Tim Rutten says.

"Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia" looks at the life of T.E. Lawrence, the Brit who was deeply involved in Mideast politics in the early part of the 20th century.

Author Michael Korda is a longtime editor with a flair for compelling storytelling, Rutten writes.

What Korda accomplishes, beyond delivering a fascinating story well told, is to make the case for Lawrence not only as a protean figure in what we've come to call "asymmetrical warfare" -- the phrase was actually employed by British strategists of his era -- but also as a shrewd, quite humane diplomat....

Korda gives a clear, rather gripping account of Lawrence's vision of what a postwar Middle East might look like -- one with a viable Jewish homeland in Palestine, which he convinced his great ally, the Hashemite prince Feisal , to accept, and rational borders for new, independent Arab nations. The betrayal of legitimate Arab aspirations by the British and French was, Korda writes, "the primary guilt that Lawrence bore, and that explains much of his life from 1922 to his death in 1935," a period in which he worked at literature and life as a private soldier and airman under assumed names.

People interested in the complex and compelling Lawrence have plenty of additional reading options. There have been more than 50 other biographies, that big-screen epic, and Lawrence's two accounts of his war experiences: "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," first published in 1926, and an abridged version, "Revolt in the Desert," which became a bestseller.

-- Carolyn Kellogg