T. E. Lawrence

Lawrence, T. E. (Thomas Edward) (1888–1935), a British soldier and writer known as “Lawrence of Arabia.” The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is his account of his adventures and ideas as leader of the Arabs in their successful revolt against Turkey in World War I. Lawrence was born in Wales. He graduated from Oxford University, specializing in Oriental languages. From 1910 to 1914 he explored the Middle East, did archeological work, and mastered Arabic dialects and customs.

When World War I broke out, Lawrence was rejected by the army for active military service because he was too short, but he was soon commissioned as a lieutenant in the intelligence service and sent to the Middle East. In 1916 Lawrence began fighting with the Arabs against Turkey, using the hit-and-run tactics of guerrilla warfare. In October, 1918, Lawrence led his Arab band into Damascus shortly before the arrival of the British army under General Edmund Allenby.

Lawrence, who had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel, refused knighthood and the Victoria Cross; he felt betrayed because the Allies had rejected his pleas for Arab independence. Shunning publicity, in 1922 he enlisted as a mechanic in the Royal Air Force, in 1922 under the name of Ross. When his identity was discovered he went into the Tank Corps as Private Shaw. Later, he returned to the RAF and served in it until 1935. In 1927 he took “Shaw” as his legal name. He died after a motorcycle accident.

Lawrence wrote his account of the Arab revolt as early as 1919 but lost the manuscript. He rewrote it from memory and printed a few copies for friends in 1926. The story was condensed and published in 1927 as Revolt in the Desert. After Lawrence died, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom was published in 1935. Lawrence made a prose translation of the Odyssey (1932). T. E. Lawrence: The Selected Letters was published in 1989.