Lawrence of Arabia is best remembered for the Oscar-winning film about his life. But there is a different T.E. Lawrence, as much a thinker as a warrior, a man who applied his unique experiences and extensive knowledge of the Arab world to a radically different political vision for nation building in the Middle East that holds many lessons for today.
Following the almost unimaginable success of the Arab Revolt, Lawrence embarked on an even more heroic effort, harnessing his celebrity to force the British to keep the promises made during the Great War to their Arab allies. Alas, he was unable to stop the Western powers from carving up the Middle East at Versailles, following the usual brain dead policies of top-down nation building, thus laying the foundations for the ongoing instability in that region. Still, until the day he died, Lawrence continued to fight for Arab nationalism, famously saying: Lawrence’s forgotten and far better way forward can be encapsulated in the aphorism “Better to let them do it imperfectly than do it perfectly yourself, for it is their country, their war, and your time is short.” By weaving together a gripping narrative of Lawrence’s Middle East adventures and highlighting his surprisingly astute political thinking, John Hulsman teases out this and the many practical lessons to be learned from Lawrence about the Arab world.