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Ranulph Fiennes

Lawrence of Arabia

Numerous books have been written about this extraordinary man who found both a home and a retreat in Dorset, including a highly regarded autobiography, "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", which has since become required reading by all those seeking a commission in the US Army. So what does Ranulph Fiennes bring to this book that makes it stand apart from all the others? The critical input that differentiates this from previous biographies is the author's own experience commanding Arab soldiers in the army of the Sultan of Oman in 1968.

I know many army officers who've had the experience of commanding soldiers from other nations and cultural/religious backgrounds. Almost without exception, having overcome various barriers and having absorbed both a new language and a clearer understanding of the culture, they have come back richer for the experience and with love and respect for those soldiers with whom they have shared some exciting and often life-threatening experiences.

Fiennes commanded a reconnaissance platoon of the Sultan’s army consisting of soldiers of mixed ethnicities and he had to overcome numerous cultural obstacles and inter-tribal rivalries to make them all blend together into an effective fighting force to take part in what was one of the more exciting insurgencies of those days. It is this experience, shared with Lawrence of Arabia, that gave the author a greater insight into the problems that Lawrence had to overcome in bringing together numerous conflicting and competing tribal groups to become an effective army to confront the Ottoman army’s occupation of the Middle East in 1917.

TE Lawrence was an extraordinary and complex character. An academic and archaeologist, without any initial pretensions to be either a soldier or a diplomat, he was something of a romantic who had fallen in love with the people of the Middle East and was driven by his ideals, his personal integrity and deeply held convictions to take on the role of leadership to further the cause of the Arabs and their desire to rule their own lives for the future.

Not only did he show incredible courage in the face of the Turkish enemy – he had a £20,000 price on his head – he also exhibited a total disregard for the normal standards of dress and respect for senior officers when dealing with his own side. A loner by nature who had a complex family background that always made him feel like an outsider amongst his own people, he found his home amongst the people of Arabia long before his military involvement began and he was already hugely respected by the many people he had met during his extensive travels throughout the region before the war intervened.

This very readable book highlights the essential parts of Lawrence’s life, delving back into his complex childhood and what drove him to his destiny as a leader of the Arab people to further their cause against the Ottoman occupiers of their land and subsequently to fight their corner against the post-war plans of the Western powers.

John Gaye

Michael Joseph

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