Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Title:                      Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Author:                 T. E. Lawrence

Lawrence, T.E. (1926). Seven Pillars of Wisdom. New York: G.H. Doran

LCCN:    29028589

D568.4 .L4


Date Updated:  February 18, 2015

The following review is found at I have based my review on the posted review.

  1. E. Lawrence (better known as “Lawrence of Arabia”) is one of those men of the 20th century who is more legend and myth than reality. The motion picture made of him, “Lawrence of Arabia,”staring Peter O’Toole, is what most people know of Lawrence. However, this beautifully written historic memoir, especially as George Bernard Shaw called it , is “One of the Cheops Pyramids of literature and history”.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was an Oxford educated archaeologist working on the Euphrates when The Great War broke out. He was then commissioned as a British Intelligence officer. This memoir tells of his own role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire from 1916 to 1919. England was at war with Germany who was closely allied with the Turks.

The extraordinarily gifted and young Lawrence took notes during the two year campaign to unite the Arabs as a single country with its capital in Damascus. This book is the story of that adventure. He began to compile it into book form in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference. The title comes from The Book of Proverbs and from his naming of a giant rock formation “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” in what is now Jordan.

One may hope to gain wisdom, as the title promised. What you get is a beautifully written epic war story – but a war story nonetheless. There’s lots of strategy and blood and gore. Guys tend to like it more than women. I like the book for showing the workings of a troubled and complicated mind wrestling with doubts and moral struggles in an extraordinarily troubled and complicated place. Lawrence is a man of his time and class but also an outsider who has great empathy for the rag-tag army of nomads he led. He became world famous for these exploits. He really did sail expertly over the desert on camel back in robes of splendid white and gold silk flying about him. It may be surprising that Lawrence exhibits considerable humility. He refused to take credit for his organizing and leadership skills. Lawrence understood all aspects of the desert and its people so the book has the ring of authenticity as well as literary beauty. Lawrence had a role in history that reverberates right down to today.

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Any bibliography of intelligence should include Lawrence’s famous opus for more than one reason. First, it influenced and inspired a generation about irregular warfare. Lawrence’s influence is still felt, as one writer put it in 1977, through a large school of followers in what had become a fashionable field. Second, it was considered a “masterly textbook on the tactics and strategy of irregular warfare,” to quote Robert Graves. Barton Whaley called it a succinct but fully rounded theory of the guerrilla. Third, it was judged to be a literary masterpiece a status rather unusual for a book of this type, though some thoughit tortuous. Fourth, Lawrence was connected with British intelligence before World War I, placing him in a category of knowledge and experience above that of the wartime intelligence officer. The debate about the accuracy and even the truthfulness of Lawrence’s account continues unresolved, and no significant new evidence has been uncovered on these crucial points of disagreement. An interesting bit of information on Lawrence appeared in a 1981 interview in the London Times with Sir Maurice Oldfield, the now deceased head of Britain’s SIS. Oldfield spoke of once having found a file on Lawrence in the old Arab Bureau in Cairo that later disappeared. He called Lawrence’s book one of his favorites of “spy” literature. Presumably, then, he found nothing in Lawrence’s file and learned nothing from his SIS position that adversely affected his opinion of the book.

[1] George C. Constantinides in Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press (1983), pp.285-286

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3 Responses to Seven Pillars of Wisdom

  1. Pingback: Guerrilla Leader | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Duty, Honor, Empire | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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