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Guerrilla Leader: T. E. Lawrence and the…
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Guerrilla Leader: T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt

by James J. Schneider

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Author James J. Schneider makes one point very clear before his reader even begins his book about the man most people know as "Lawrence of Arabia": while he's done ample research on his subject, he has "dispensed with the normal scholarly apparatus of lengthy footnotes, disputations, tables, and the like for the sake of readability." He goes on to say in essence that he wants to tell the story, not bog it down with excess baggage. The result is a history without annotation, an entirely partial view of the Arab war that ran parallel to World War I, and a study in hero worship to the nth degree.

For anyone who's never seen the 1962 film based on these events (and I haven't) T. E. Lawrence was sort of like John Dunbar (if you haven't seen "Lawrence of Arabia" I have to assume that you have seen "Dances with Wolves") in that he immersed himself into a foreign world and made their cause his own. The author doesn't make this comparison, I do. Schneider relies heavily on Lawrence's own writings (journals, his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, etc.) for both characterization and narrative. He acknowledges in the preface that Lawrence's writing can be "overwrought, obscure, and self-serving" and then goes on to use it as factual, reliable research anyway. And while I can appreciate the attempt to make this history (one that most people probably know very little about as history classes tend to focus more on the European participation in the World Wars than on their African and Asian Allies--for the record, the Arab Revolt was supported by Britain and France in an effort to combat the Turkish, who were allied with Germany) more "readable"it also makes it one-sided, biased and somewhat exhausting.

There's one chapter, fairly early on, wherein Lawrence is laid up with dysentery or some other illness. He takes this time to ponder the war and develops this amazing theory to apply to guerrilla warfare. The effect of reading this passage is the understanding that Lawrence is somehow brave and full of so much character and understanding of this foreign land and we must worship him. And unfortunately that's the tone of the whole book. At a time when, with Arab Spring and everything that is now happening in that corner of the world, we could really benefit from understanding the history and the implications that come with challenging that history, Schneider fails to really step up and give the reader anything more than a loose battle timeline wrapped in Lawrence's "self-serving" narrative. In my opinion, this book is unnecessary. If you want to read Lawrence's writings, read his writings. And if you want a history of the Arab revolt, find a history book. This is not it.

Lauren Cartelli
www.theliterarygothamite.com ( )
  laurscartelli | Dec 12, 2011 |
The aftermath of the "Arab Spring" isn't a bad time for a new book about T. E. Lawrence and an earlier Middle Eastern uprising, the World War I Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. James J. Schneider recounts how a young English archeologist with a limited command of Arabic and no military experience inspired, organized and led a two-year guerrilla campaign that played a significant role in the Allied victory in the war's most important sideshow.

Whether Lawrence was truly the great leader portrayed in his own Seven Pillars of Wisdom has long been a controversial question. Schneider does not address it. He is a Lawrence admirer, albeit he quietly omits some of his hero's less widely believed tales. There is not a word, for instance, about Lawrence's supposed capture and torture by the Turks during an undercover mission (a central episode in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia"). Aside from such revisions, the book sticks to its subject's narrative and point of view. In particular, it takes a favorable view of men whom he respected (e. g., Allenby and Feisal) while casting a cold eye on those whom he didn't (Hussein and his sons other than Feisal, the French, etc.). Accepted without skepticism is Lawrence's belief that the British deceived their Arab supporters and made him an accessory to "betrayal".

Occasionally, admiration slides into hero worship. Is it really the case that Lawrence's windy ruminations on how war involves "ends, ways, means, and risk" "is one of the most astonishing and creative revelations in the entire history of the art of war" (p. 55)? Or that the Vietnamese communists owed their victories to close study of Lawrence's methods (p. 4)? Or that Lawrence's physical and mental sufferings led to an inner transformation that "raised military art and leadership to a whole new plane of novelty, creation, and expression" (p. 300)?

The author has also absorbed Lawrence's penchant for overwrought prose, to which he adds a taste for bizarre similes and metaphors. A chapter is titled "Lawrence in LEGO-land". Bedouin units are like legos, you see, because they are small and don't belong to a fixed structure. An apt analogy - if one imagines legos prone to ignore orders and steeped in blood feuds against their fellow building blocks.

Happily, the descriptions of campaigns and battles are clear and crisp. Of particular interest are the accounts of representative raids, both successes and failures, showing the high level of care and planning that went into these small scale actions, as well as the inevitable role of chance in determining their outcomes. The author is at his best when he tells us what Lawrence did. The reader can easily forgive, or at least speed read over, the pseudo-profundities with which he bogs down his tale. ( )
3 vote TomVeal | Oct 29, 2011 |
This book is written in part, in a scholarly tone, which can come across a bit dry. On the whole, it is a quite interesting look at Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. The book gives both a wide view of the events and a detailed look at the man who would help found a nation while loosing himself.
This is a very in depth look at the life and times of T. E. Lawrence, the famed Englishman who would become known as Lawrence of Arabia. During World War I, Lawrence helped lead the Arabs of the Middle East in the fight against the Turks. As an officer in the British Army he was skilled in linguistics, military history and tactics. He had a personal dream of uniting the Arab tribes into a national force. The prevailing Western plan for the Middle East was to divide it up into zones of influence ruled by European interests. Lawrence was constantly torn between his duty as a British soldier and his dream to unite the Arabs under their own leadership. The book recounts his efforts through more than two years of guerrilla warfare to unite the many divided tribes. It details many of the battles Lawrence participated in against the Turks as well as the constant battles he had to establish and maintain a semblance of unity among the disparate Arab tribes. The Arab fighting was a form of guerrilla warfare with Lawrence trying to pick the times and places to use his limited forces to gain superiority and then slipping into the vast desolate landscape to regroup. The author discusses the effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) on Lawrence. While this was not a recognized diagnosis at the time, many soldiers would be relieved from duty during the war for being shell shocked. The author makes a good argument using the available facts to support his case for PTSD. ( )
1 vote Ronrose1 | Oct 11, 2011 |
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"Schneider's smoothly written and sharply focused book captures the role of T.E. Lawrence in the arduous campaign waged by his Arab forces but adds little to the vast shelf of books on Lawrence, given such works as John E. Mack's A Prince of Our Disorder, Michael Korda's Hero, and most especially Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom."
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Elizabeth R. Hayford (Nov 1, 2011)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553807641, Hardcover)

Reclaiming T. E. Lawrence from hype and legend, James J. Schneider offers a startling reexamination of this leader’s critical role in shaping the modern Middle East. Just how did this obscure British junior intelligence officer, unschooled in the art of war, become “Lawrence of Arabia” and inspire a loosely affiliated cluster of desert tribes to band together in an all-or-nothing insurgency against their Turkish overlords? The answers have profound implications for our time as well, as a new generation of revolutionaries pulls pages from Lawrence’s playbook of irregular warfare.

Blowing up trains and harassing supply lines with dynamite and audacity, Lawrence drove the mighty armies of the Ottoman Turks to distraction and brought the Arabs to the brink of self-determination. But his success hinged on more than just innovative tactics: As he immersed himself in Arab culture, Lawrence learned that a traditional Western-style hierarchical command structure could not work in a tribal system where warriors lead not only an army but an entire community. Weaving quotations from Lawrence’s own writings with the histories of his greatest campaigns, Schneider shows how this stranger in a strange land evolved over time into the model of the self-reflective, enabling leader who eschews glory for himself but instead seeks to empower his followers. Guerrilla Leader also offers a valuable analysis of Lawrence’s innovative theories of insurgency and their relevance to the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East.

This exhaustively researched book also provides a detailed account of the Arab revolt, from the stunning assault on the port city of Aqaba to the bloody, Pyrrhic victory at Tafileh, the only set-piece battle Lawrence fought during the Great Arab Revolt. Lawrence emerged from the latter experience physically and mentally drained, incapable of continuing as a military commander, and, Schneider asserts, in the early stages of the post-traumatic stress disorder that would bedevil him for the rest of his life.  The author then carries the narrative forward to the final slaughter of the Turks at Tafas and the Arabs’ ultimate victory at Damascus.

With insights into Lawrence’s views on discipline, his fear of failure, and his enduring influence on military leadership in the twenty-first century, Guerrilla Leader is a bracingly fresh take on one of the great subjects of the modern era.

Foreward by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas E. Ricks

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:59 -0400)

Reclaiming T. E. Lawrence from hype and legend, James J. Schneider offers a reexamination of this leader's critical role in shaping the modern Middle East. Just how did this obscure British junior intelligence officer, unschooled in the art of war, become "Lawrence of Arabia" and inspire a loosely affiliated cluster of desert tribes to band together in an all-or-nothing insurgency against their Turkish overlords? The answers have profound implications for our time as well. Blowing up trains and harassing supply lines, Lawrence drove the Ottoman Turks to distraction and brought the Arabs to the brink of self-determination. But his success hinged on more than just innovative tactics: As he immersed himself in Arab culture, Lawrence learned that a traditional Western-style hierarchical command structure could not work in a tribal system. Weaving quotations from Lawrence's own writings with the histories of his greatest campaigns, Schneider shows how this stranger in a strange land evolved over time into the model of the self-reflective, enabling leader who eschews glory for himself but instead seeks to empower his followers.--From publisher description.… (more)

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