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A thrilling and revelatory narrative of one of the most epic and consequential periods in twentieth century history—the Arab Revolt and the secret game to control the Middle East

The Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I was, in the words of T. E. Lawrence, “a sideshow of a sideshow.” 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 academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo whose clandestine role was to foment jihad against British rule. Aaron Aaronsohn was a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Palestine even as he built an elaborate anti-Ottoman spy ring. William Yale was a fallen scion of the American aristocracy who traveled the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Standard Oil, dissembling to the Turks in order to gain valuable oil concessions. At the center of it all was Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist digging ruins in Syria; by 1917 he was riding into legend at the head of an Arab army, as he fought a rearguard action against his own government and its imperial ambitions.

Based on four 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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A startlingly rich and revealing portrait of one of history’s most iconic figures. Equally satisfying is the cast of obscure German and American agents nearly as eccentric as Lawrence himself. They exercised such outsized influence on shaping the world as we know it that reading about them here is not only revelatory but practically surreal. Anderson is an exquisite writer and dogged researcher whose accounts of century-old brutalities are made utterly convincing by the knowledge that he has personally witnessed the sort of offhanded horror he’s unearthed in archives. Lovers of big twentieth-century history will be in nirvana.”

    Tom Reiss, Pulitzer Prize–winning author

  • “Lawrence of Arabia is said to have reinvented warfare, and Scott Anderson has now reinvented Lawrence. By placing him alongside the other adventurers and spies who roamed the Arabian war theater, Anderson brilliantly illuminates how the modern Middle East came to be. The research in this book is so daringly original, and the writing so spectacular, that it feels like I’m reading about the topic for the first time. A deep and utterly captivating reading experience.”

    Sebastian Junger, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Few characters in history can match T. E. Lawrence for adventure, intrigue, or sheer enigma. Scott Anderson, an indefatigable reporter well acquainted with the Arab world, has carefully reconstructed Lawrence’s shadowy realm. Anderson shows how Lawrence, along with a surprisingly small cast of lesser-known rogues and operatives, laid the groundwork, wittingly or not, for the mess that is the modern Middle East. Here is an intimate history painted on a very large canvas, with one fantastically charismatic—and fabulously flawed—man at the dusty center of the tale.”

    Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author

  • “An amazing accomplishment. Lawrence in Arabia captures the bravado, surreality, and grandeur of the Middle East in the birth throes of the twentieth century. Anderson employs the highest order of dramatic narrative to create an indelible portrait of a great and enduring figure of war and politics. Along for the show is a cast of characters drawn straight from Graham Greene. This is history of the most vivid and relevant order.”

    Doug Stanton, New York Times bestselling author

  • Lawrence in Arabia is a work of serious research and powerful insight, but it is so rich in incredible stories and glittering details that it felt like a guilty pleasure while I was reading it. Completely absorbing, sweeping in scope, and riveting from the first word, this is a book that will stay with me for a long time.”

    Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author

  • “A fine storyteller…Through his large cast, Anderson is able to explore the muddles of the early-twentieth-century Middle East from several distinct and enlightening perspectives. Furthermore, while he maintains an invigorating pace, his fabulous details are given room to illuminate…Engrossing, thoughtful, and intricate.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “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. It’s a big book in every sense, with a huge amount of terrain to cover…It’s high praise for both the visually grand film and this grandly ambitious book to say that they do have a lot in common.”

    New York Times (September 8, 2013)

  • “Anderson, a veteran war correspondent…gives Lawrence’s story a new spin by contextualizing him in a group biography. He weaves in the lives of three contemporary Middle Eastern spies…Anderson’s setting of Lawrence among other foreign agents is an interesting and creative idea, and opens the way for some clever connections.”        

    New York Times (August 8, 2013)

  • “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 does exactly that, weaving enormous detail into its five-hundred-plus pages with a propulsive narrative thread”

    USA Today (4 stars)

  • “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, even if they are less decisive figures—but, if anything, he shows how individuals both shape history and are, at the same time, helpless before the dictates of great power politics.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Anderson’s research seems to have been painstaking, making this a fine companion volume to Lawrence’s own Seven Pillars of Wisdom and director David Lean’s spellbinding but overblown 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “In this well-researched, sweeping account of the life and times of T. E. Lawrence, author Scott Anderson offers a fresh and compelling look at the making of the modern Middle East…A gripping narrative that makes this nearly six-hundred-page account hard to put down…The book’s broader achievement is that it reveals the incompetence and deceit of Lawrence’s British superiors in shaping the postwar Middle East. It also offers a revealing account of other British agents and those from the United States and Germany in the remarkable events of the period.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

  • “Renders painfully clear how deeply the political structure of the Middle East has been born of eccentric fantasies.”

    Esquire

  • “If one wonders why many Arabs today seethe with resentment of the West, this book goes a long way toward providing one answer.”

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  • “Anderson’s well-told tale of war, betrayal, and depressing short-sightedness is also a vivid reminder of why the Middle East continues to preoccupy us.”

    Richmond Times-Dispatch

  • “Anderson carries his erudition lightly, but there’s enough scholarship there to make an academic proud. As with the best kind of yarns, you don’t realize what you’ve learned until the narrator goes silent.”

    Daily Beast

  • “To historians, the real T. E. Lawrence is as fascinating as the cinematic version in Lawrence of Arabia is to movie fans. The many reasons interlock and tighten author Anderson’s narrative, yielding a work that can absorb scholarly and popular interest like…Its thorough research clothed in smoothly written prose, Anderson’s history strikes a perfect balance between scope and detail about a remarkable and mysterious character.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Readers seeking to understand why turmoil has been so omnipresent in the Middle East will benefit from Anderson’s easy prose, which makes liberal use of primary sources and research, but reads like a political thriller. The central message seems as relevant today as it was a century ago: revolutions whose success is dependent on the patronage of external powers come at a high price—a ‘loss of autonomy’ and an influx of foreign carpetbaggers who show little concern for the inhabitants of the newly ‘free’ land.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Malcolm Hillgartner’s gravelly baritone conveys the muscular energy of Anderson’s prose…Hillgartner’s narration is clear and easy to follow. He does a good job with the story’s many Arab and Turkish names.”

    AudioFile

  • “With strong and insightful writing, using T. E. Lawrence as a window onto the tragic history of World War I and its settlement in the Middle East, Anderson makes this complicated history both vivid and engaging. Highly recommended.”

    Library Journal

  • “A well-fleshed portrait of T. E. Lawrence (1888–1935) brought in burnished relief against other scoundrels in the Arabian narrative…A lively, contrasting study of hubris and humility.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A Barnes & Noble Best Book for August 2013
  • A Publishers Weekly Bestseller
  • A Washington Post Bestseller
  • A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • An Amazon Top 10 Book of 2013
  • A 2013 Christian Science Monitor Book of the Year for Best Nonfiction
  • A 2013 Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book for Nonfiction
  • Nominated for the 2013 Plutarch Award for Best Biography of the Year
  • A 2014 ALA Notable Book for Adult Nonfiction
  • A 2013 New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • Finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
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About the Author

Scott Anderson is a veteran war correspondent whose work frequently appears in New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair.