Fabrizio Bagatti, Lawrence of Arabia’s Secret Dispatches through the Arab Revolt 1915-1919, (Pen & Sword Military 2021)
Lawrence of Arabia holds a special place in British memory, relating to his exploits during World War I and beyond. With the added romance of his early death, he is a subject that garners much attention and no little controversy. This book doesn’t really set out to dismiss or support any viewpoint but presents the epistolic documentation to the reader. These documents reflect on Lawrence’s role in the Arab Revolt of 1915-1919 and are presented in chronological order.
What we get are 118 documents presented as they were produced, then represented to the modern reader for them to decide their value and accuracy. The author is open about his like of Lawrence, and the introduction sets that out straight away; however, the book itself contains no analysis of the documents presented. Without that, the work is all left to the reader to decide, which is not a bad thing when provoking some examination of one’s own prejudices. But it still is an opportunity missed, though the book doesn’t suffer for it. There are extensive footnotes provided throughout the text; and they are footnotes, not endnotes, so no need to hold various bookmarks and flick back and forth between pages – personally, I like footnotes presented in this manner. There is an extensive bibliography too, which will be very useful for anyone wanting to read further. The index only deals with the personalities mentioned in the text but is very comprehensive.
This is not a book to sit and “read”: it is a useful research tool when dealing with TE Lawrence’s influence, or lack thereof, on the Arab Revolt. Which side of the fence you fall on for that will very much depend on your personal disposition towards Lawrence and Britain’s role in the Arab world. This is a nice collection of pertinent documents, but it is not a stand-alone tome; you will need others if you are looking to understand Lawrence, the Arab Revolt, or the wider World War One context.