Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Thanks to this diary I bought Weatherford's Gengis Kahn. I am just starting Chapter 4 and find the work highly readable and informative. Weatheford's background in cultural anthropology and his focus on tribal cultures well suited him for this work. It appears that he was part, possibly a key part, of an international team that, subsequent to Soviet withdrawal from Mongolia, set out to untangle the Mongol past. This involved deciphering a 'secret history', that appears to have been a court history of the family which survived in a Chinese text written using Chinese characters to phonetically represent spoken Mongolia and correlating this with the physical places and an interior understanding of the practices and legends of the group. The book is fascinating and, to me, comparable to  Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the way it contextualizes the story into the culture in which it occurs.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 at 11:42:05 AM EST
Now that you mention it: Lawrence of Arabia - the Lost Critic and the Legend (Dining with Al Qaeda, February 28, 2013)
The one thing I couldn't persuade the publishers of Dining with al-Qaeda to change as we edited the text was their leading phrase in the jacket-sleeve blurb, which referred to the author as "Following in the footsteps of Sir Richard Burton and Lawrence of Arabia ..."

In January, for the magazine The Majalla, I finally got to write down the full reason why I felt a reference to Lawrence wasn't appropriate for a book like mine, which is in large part about how difficult it is to set facts straight about the Middle East. I've complained about modern journalists who claim to be strictly reporting what happened and yet do not always stick to the non-fiction high road (more here). "Faction" is of course not uncommon - some books of Ryszard Kapuściński were so light-footed they were dubbed "magical journalism" (more here). To be sure, both Kapuściński  and Lawrence appear to have told their friends that they were not trying to recount plodding facts. But the problem for me remains that most people don't realise that, and most publishers are not in a rush to tell them.


Then one recent day in Edinburgh, I came across the plain black cover of the first edition of Richard Aldington's Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry, a book I had never heard of. Here, in the folds of what I judged was measured prose, was concealed a jeweled dagger of a polemic. It led me into a whole world of debate about the Lawrence story--the great film, the (lack of) sex, his genius, his psychology--of which I am no scholar. But Aldington's arguments did ring startlingly true as he portrayed Lawrence as one of my bugbears, a writer who exploits the confusion and magical reputation of the Middle East to play fast and loose with the facts.

In the long run, we're all misquoted — not Keynes
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 at 11:58:26 AM EST
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After I knew I was going to Saudi to help commission the sound system at King Khalid International Airport I undertook to read a little about the area, and I started with Lawrence. What ever faults he may have had he described spending years as a linguist studying various dialects of Arabic and had spent time with the Bedu as well as the marsh Arabs of north of Basra and his work was presented as being in large part an autobiographical account of the events in which he participated. The first portion contained the contextual background. Then I read The Kingdom by Robert Lacey and Sandra Mackey's Inside the Desert Kingdom while trying to pick up some rudimentary Arabic.

All I know about Aldington is the brief blurb about his book, Lawrence of Arabia: A Cautionary Tale, and the surrounding controversy from Amazon:

Fred Crawford provides the first examination of all parties and points of view embroiled in the controversy generated by Richard Aldington's 1955 biography of Lawrence of Arabia.

While researching Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry, Aldington had made major discoveries, including the extent to which Lawrence had cooperated in the creation of the "Lawrence legend." For this and other reasons, he concluded that Lawrence was a charlatan, a poseur, and a fraud. A powerful group including B. H. Liddell Hart, Robert Graves, and A. W. Lawrence worked behind the scenes to suppress and denigrate the biography and to influence Aldington's publisher to force him to make changes to the manuscript before it was published.

Crawford demonstrates that an influential clique with money and power can damage the reputation of a book even before people have had an opportunity to read it. That Aldington's findings were nearly suppressed reveals how little freedom of the press can mean when a book displeases influential people with positions--or myths--to maintain.

Crawford is the first to compare the viewpoints of the three major factions involved in the controversy. Correspondence by and interviews with many involved directly in the dispute among the three contending parties--Aldington, his publisher, and the opposition coordinated by Hart-- make it possible for the reader to know more about the affair than did any of the parties directly involved.

I now have little doubt that there has been serious image manipulation surrounding Lawrence's activities for the British during WW I and perhaps his entire time in Arabia before WWI was in part or in whole financed by British Intelligence, and while it seems possible that the myth making extended to the background chapter he provided and to which I was referring, which was more broad stroke in nature, I subsequently found nothing that contradicted what I recalled of Lawrence by Albert Hourani in his earlier version of History of the Arab Peoples.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 3rd, 2013 at 02:51:26 PM EST
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