Seven Pillars of Wisdom
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.1
The novel Seven Pillars of Wisom tells the tale of T E.Lawrence's exploits in Arabia as part of the Arab Revolt. While not a big fan of military histories in general, I picked up this novel simply because of the dedication. What I found inside was a moving account of a time in and place in history I knew little about.
As a brief historical overview, during the First World War, the British Government felt that by supporting the rebellion of the Arabian people against the Ottoman Empire(the Turks), they could strike a painful blow against the Central Powers. They thought this might just be the boost the Allied Powers needed. This is where the storyline begins. T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. "Lawrence of Arabia") was a soldier in the British Army who after serving in Arabia, chronicled what he described as the "Arab Revolt" during World War I. Lawrence served an integral part of the rebellion, acting as a coordinator, strategist, and representative of Britain among the Arabs. Lawrence was even on the staff and a leader of the rebelling army. For those interested in history, this book tells the a tale of World War I that is much less publicized than the European front.
The novel is an extremely informative narrative, and one can see through Lawrence's writing not only the military history of his involvement in the Revolt, but Lawrence's attatchment to the Arab people themselves. Lawrence writes so that one can feel they are truly on the front, and the personal touch makes the novel so much more than a typical military history. Lawrence discusses supply problems, problems with the men in the army, and also diplomatic problems that arose during the campaign. He also discusses the burden of being a British soldier who knew that if things went wrong, he and Britain would have to abandon the Revolt and the culture that he had come to be part of.
The manuscript itself went through three major drafts, the first was reportedly lost on Reading Station in 1919. During the writing process Lawrence sought literary advice from E. M. Forster. Once he finished the manuscript, he had it critiqued and edited by George Bernard Shaw as well as Shaw's wife. The novel came out in a very limited edition in 1926, with illustrations by Eric Kennington. It was at that time published without the introduction, which was not included until 1939. Newer printings of the novel have included abridged versions of the classic. After reading both I noticed the biggest part of the editing was of the military account. If you are interested in the more philosophical observations made by Lawrence, they are more or less intact in the abridged version. The copy I own today is the newest paperback version, and it runs 667 pages.
Lawrence's writing style itself is quite eloquent, and much of the book leans towards being philosophical. It's form is that of a journal, complete not only with the events themselves, but also Lawrence's reactions to them. Even those with little or no interest in military history can appreciate Lawrence's passionate expression. It is very clear that Lawrence believed in the Arab people and their cause. Their dream became his dream, which is evident throughout the novel.
1Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 17.
Lawrence, T E. Seven Pillars of Wisdom. New York: Anchor, reissue edition 1991.
Lowell, Thomas. With Lawrence in Arabia. Atlanta: Amereon Ltd, reissue edition 1994.