The broad facts of the life of Thomas Edward Lawrence are familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of 20th century history, and certainly anyone with a love of classic cinema.
As recounted in David Lean’s excellent, mythologising but still remarkably accurate 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, during World War One T. E. Lawrence was a minor functionary in the British Army serving under General Allenby at Cairo. Due to his extensive academic knowledge of the Middle East and gift for languages, he was sent to liaise with the Arab Bedouins in order to coordinate their revolt against the Turks with British efforts. He became a key leader in the revolt, winning countless victories in the guerrilla campaign against the Ottoman Empire.
Or so the story goes – and it’s a good one. The image of Lawrence (as played by Peter O’Toole in Lean’s film, naturally) in his white robes, bellowing orders at his desert warriors, is an iconic one. But history is littered with gifted warriors and leaders, many who left a bigger footprint than Colonel Lawrence. So why should he continue to capture our imaginations well over a century after his most notable deeds?