Reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is to be immersed in a world that is totally gone. The accuracy of Lawrence’s recollections might be debated, but the literary quality of his memoir cannot be denied. The book centers around Lawrence, a British soldier, and his experiences as a liaison officer during the Arab revolt against the Turks in 1916-1918. His friendship with Feisal al Husayn is notable; similarly, Lawrence’s ability to blend in and observe and report is noteworthy, especially for the time. It is a dark book; the Deraa fiasco particularly, though Lawrence glosses it over. He presents his own involvement in the revolt, including his guerrilla tactics against the Turks, in a modest way, which is interesting to consider. But overall, though the book is quite long and covers a LOT of ground in a relatively short time, it is above all a pleasure to read–Lawrence’s words are particularly and wonderfully poetic.
Read him here:
We had learned that there were pangs too sharp, griefs too deep, ecstasies too high for our finite selves to register. When emotion reached this pitch the mind choked; and memory went white till the circumstances were humdrum once more.
And on the Bedouins:
They were as unstable as water, and like water would perhaps finally prevail. Since the dawn of life, in successive waves they had been dashing themselves against the coasts of flesh. Each wave was broken, but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed, and some day, ages yet, might roll unchecked over the place where the material world had been, and God would move upon the face of those waters. One such wave (and not the least) I raised and rolled before the branch of an idea, till it reached its crest, and toppled over and fell at Damascus. The wash of that wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter of the following wave, when in fullness of time the sea shall be raised once more.
Simply lovely; the words are so simple, but somehow together they conjure up a most evocative picture of the desert, the war at that time. Lawrence’s writing is transporting and just beautiful, you can get absorbed in this book to the exclusion of the outside world. And sadly I feel as though this is a book that is often ignored nowadays, though Lawrence of Arabia is still in currency. If you’ve any interest in the man or the time period at all this is more than worthwhile to pick up and read.