Lawrence of Arabia Critical Essays

Alistair MacLean


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Lawrence of Arabia is an effective biography for young people. MacLean keeps his audience clearly in mind at all times and focuses on the most lively and interesting aspects of a military campaign. In addition, MacLean is aware of the difficulty that younger readers may have translating historical events, particularly ones set in so distant a country, into their own world. The text tackles that difficulty head-on, helping readers to imagine the world of Lawrence of Arabia through comparisons to other events that may be more familiar to them. For example, MacLean compares World War I to the more recent, more publicized World War II: “In 1916 military tactics were very different even from those used in the Second World War.” MacLean also describes an Arab plane as “not much better than the one the Wright brothers had flown at Kitty Hawk”; the description, if not historically accurate, at least allows readers to picture a very frail craft.

MacLean’s primary focus is on Lawrence, the military genius with the perseverance and mental and physical ability to carry through his plans. MacLean describes him as shaper of the Arab strategy: Lawrence, sick and immobilized with dysentery, worked out the classic plan to take the Port of ‘Aqaba from the landward side, leaving Turkish garrisons tied up in the town of Medina. He deployed tribes in remote areas to make the Turkish troops fear attack from unforeseen positions. He maneuvered his bedouin forces to the north so that they could be the first to arrive in Damascus, thereby ensuring some acknowledgment of their military assistance during Great Britain’s peace talks.


(The entire section is 676 words.)