T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935) achieved fame from his remarkable odyssey as instigator, organizer, hero, and tragic figure of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, which he began as an eccentric junior intelligence officer and ended as “Lawrence of Arabia.” This indelible experience and celebrity, which he spent the rest of his short life struggling to reconcile and reject, to recount and repress, eventually became Lawrence’s tortured masterpiece, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Lawrence's friend and admirer, Winston Churchill, said Seven Pillars "ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English Language" and called the work “An epic, a prodigy, a tale of torment, and in the heart of it – A Man.” But Lawrence’s literary and intellectual reach far exceeded the world and words of Seven Pillars.
To the point, Churchill said: “Lawrence had a full measure of the versatility of genius. He held one of those master keys which unlock the doors of many kinds of treasure houses. He was a savant as well as a soldier. He was an archaeologist as well as a man of action. He was an accomplished scholar as well as an Arab partisan. He was a mechanic as well as a philosopher. His background of somber experience and reflection only seemed to set forth more brightly the charm and gaiety of his companionship, and the generous majesty of his nature.” (Great Contemporaries, p. 139)
Churchill also said that “Lawrence was one of those beings whose pace of life was faster and more intense than the ordinary…” Lawrence died at the age of 46 following an accident while riding one of his beloved motorcycles. He remains a remarkably complex and elusive figure, of whom it can be difficult to see more than facets.
Fortunately, he left behind a wealth and diversity of written words. His most significant original works – Seven Pillars and The Mint – illuminate not only their subjects from a uniquely perceptive and informed perspective, but also the keen, restive, questing intellect of their author. Beyond these two well-known titles, Lawrence’s published work spans crusader castles and ancient Greek translation to technical manuals on high speed boats. Moreover, his published volumes of correspondence reveal his engagement with an incredibly diverse array of foremost intellectual and political luminaries of the early twentieth century.