Seven Pillars Of Wisdom – T.E. Lawrence

Foreword: This is going to be such a difficult review to write and I am so aware that many people will utterly disagree with most of what I write. But, I guess this is from the point of view of a teenage girl so… try to understand. 😀

Rating: 5/10

Review:


I’m going to first off state something very confusing. I really loved this book. I love T.E. Lawrence, I think he’s an enigmatic, mysterious and overall heroic man. If you aren’t quite sure of who this man is, simply think back to that amazing, award winning movie, “Lawrence of Arabia.” Lawrence’s main initiative in this book is to act as an intermediate between the rebel forces of Arabia and the English, who were organizing against the Ottoman Turk’s. More then anything, the book is about the unification of Saudi Arabia and the many conflicts which helped to achieve that end.

Although this is generally thought of as an Autobiography, especially since it was written by T.E. Lawrence himself, I hesitate in naming it as such.  There is a lot of controversy that surrounds Lawrence, and, while the word of the man himself should be the most accurate, there are general rumblings about whether many events have been embellished. So, this is, as Charles Hill has stated, “”a novel traveling under the cover of autobiography.” (Spoiler) For example, a moment that has been wildly debated is that of the alleged sexual molestation of Lawrence by the Turk’s. So much controversy surrounds this, especially the part of the book which explains his escape, on a camel across the desert. As many have pointed out, would you be able to endure such a ride without profusely bleeding and pain? However, adrenaline can make you do insane things. I of course would rather side with the victim in every case but there are moments like that which sometimes make the reader wonder. 

The books extends from Lawrence’s first rumblings of revolt against the Turk’s. It’s very clear by his writing that Lawrence has absolutely no respect for the Turk’s, whom he views as culturally absent and reliant upon numbers, rather then strategy and wit. He frequently travels across the country, eventually uniting enough tribes to push the Turk’s from nearly every major post by sabotaging the huge Hejaz Railway that extends from the north to the south. The main drive of the book is to capture Damascus for the Arabs, which can only be achieved by the outstanding military ambition of Emir Faisal. (As seen below, Prince Faisal is in the front and T.E. Lawrence is behind him to the right.) 

Faisal is one of the major individuals of the war, whom acted as a united front against the Turk’s and a close fried to Lawrence himself. Unlike in the movie, there is almost no mention of Ali, who seems to be taken from Faisal’s character and modified to suit the audience’s favor. There is definitely a sense of hero worship from Lawrence to Faisal, which seems to felt mutually. The level of respect that the English have for the authority figures of the tribes is interesting and increases the general romance of the book.

And here’s where I explain why exactly I gave this book only 5 out of 10. Even though I loved this book and all of the individuals within it, I found it so incredibly difficult to read. As an Australian girl, who is culturally naive and has only visited America and Canada, it was almost incomprehensible to understand exactly what was happening. There is just so many new words, technical terms and long names to remember that I only understood what I was reading by about 150 pages. It’s difficult to admit this but I haven’t actually finished it because it is probably one of the most difficult books I have ever read. And I’ve read a lot of books. Lawrence does have a very poetic style of writing and I think that without that, I wouldn’t have been able to make it past 50 pages. For example:

For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were a self-centred army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man’s creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare.

As you can see by the quote above, Lawrence is immensely talented in his writing and there are scenes that literally make the heart ache with its beauty. However, those moments are often separated by lengthy explanations of who is who, where they are and what strategies they have planned. It is also interesting to note that Lawrence himself is a very unusual and complex person, who is described as being sexually ambiguous, effeminate and strategizing. He isn’t a typical hero, in any sense.

So, for the romance of the book, of Lawrence and of the landscape, I give this book a 5. However, I can not award this book a further five points for readability, consistency of ideas and the quality of the every chapter. I do know that one day I will come back to this book, it’s hard not to when you fall in love with Lawrence, but I don’t think, as a young girl, that I can fully appreciate this book at this stage in my life. However, if you understand what it is to follow complex storyline’s and are interested in the man itself, please do read this book. After all, this is a personal review, based on my own experiences with it.

Adaptations: 

Lawrence of Arabia is a 1964 adaptation of Lawrence’s experiences, based heavily off The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This movie is, without a doubt, among the top ten lists of best movies ever made. It’s won 16 awards, including seven Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen it before… well, what are you waiting for? Watch it!!

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6 thoughts on “Seven Pillars Of Wisdom – T.E. Lawrence

  1. Hello there,

    Thank you for this. I have not yet read this book, and I do know that its veracity on all points has often been questioned; but it is still spoken of as one of the finest depictions in literature of men at war. In this, I’d imagine Lawrence would have been heavily influenced by the Greek classics – an area in which Lawrence was extremely well-read (his translation of Homer’s Odyssey, for instance, is still reckoned to be among the finest).

    That passage you quote certainly makes me want to read more. I liked especially “the innumerable silences of stars”. Most of us would have applied the adjective “innumerable” to the stars – as in, say, “the silence of innumerable stars” – but applying it instead to the silence (and presenting that silence in its plural form – “silences”) imparts a wonderful sense of lyricism, and suggests mystery and awe. Some may say this is too self-conscious, but I must admit I rather like it.

    1. I think that you’ll find opinions really stretched about this book. There’s a lot of people who hate it and plenty more who love it. I think that because it is just such an intense and huge book to tackle, once you get to the end, emotions are all the more enhanced, which probably accounts for the passion of most reviewers.

      I think you’d be really pleased to read a bit in the book, which is when Lawrence gets dreadfully sick and is kept to his tent. In his delirious state, he starts to think about war strategies and philosophies and because he is so unique as a person, he takes a rather interesting approach to a lot of things.

      I did not know that he had translated the Odyssey. I absolutely adored the book/poem/epic my self so I might try and snag a copy of his translated version and do a re-read.

      I think, since he did write most of this book back in Paris, after all of it had been resolved, that he took a lot of effort to be poetic and sincere in his writing. You’ve analyzed his passage as I think he would have, mulling over the different inflection such a change in structure would provide.

      PLEASE do read this book if you feel that it would be interesting. I know for a fact that you are well-read and, while I’d like to imagine that I am, I’m still a bit of a child in that sense. So I think you’d take a lot more from this book then I would.

  2. Funny I should stumble upon your post! I just requested a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, hoping to have it in this week. I think it will be an interesting read, and I’ve wanted to read it for a while.

    I appreciate your review. It’s truthful, not a ‘it was great’ with no issues, you make good points. I’m looking forward to reveling in the poetic language.

    Don’t put yourself down so much for being a ‘culturally naive’ teenage girl and not being able to get enough of out a book for that reason. You are young (I think I’m only a few years older than you), and you’ll learn a lot. Look at it this way: you’re reading books that most teenage girls wouldn’t, about different cultures and experiences. You probably understand more than you think you do.

    Cheers!

  3. Today marks the anniversary of Lawrence’s death, and as I perused Google links regarding the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I came across your blog. Very insightful and articulate for a teenager. Five years later, I hope you’re continuing to write and read ‘beyond your years’. A challenge for me as a 50-something year old 🙂
    Allison

    1. Hi Allison, thank you so much for your comment. I had actually forgotten about this blog since it has been so long since I have updated it. However, I am hoping to get back into the swing of things! Your comment felt very motivating and I am so glad you stopped by and took the time to read my little rants 🙂

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