First aired on The Sunday Edition (29/5/11)
Thomas Edward Lawrence grew up wanting to change the world. He wanted to be a hero. Like many things T.E. Lawrence put his mind too, he accomplished both these goals — and quite a bit more — at an impressively young age. From drawing the map of the present-day Middle East to inventing guerrilla warfare, the influence of the man who was known as "Lawrence of Arabia" is still felt today. That, and his untimely death at only 47 years old, is why Lawrence makes such a compelling subject for a biography, the latest of which is Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda.
Just as Lawrence was drawn to the Middle East, Korda was drawn to Lawrence. Lawrence was a figure that haunted Korda from a very young age. Several of Korda's relatives knew Lawrence personally and his uncle held the film rights to his book Revolt in the Desert. While that movie was never made, Lawrence's many accomplishments strongly influenced the Korda family and Michael grew up surrounded by stories of this enigmatic character. "Lawrence has always been in the back of my mind as a very powerful motivating force," Korda revealed to The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright in a recent interview. In fact, it was Lawrence who inspired Korda to join the army, purchase a motorcycle and even participate in the Hungarian revolution.
Korda is not alone in his fascination with Lawrence. But what is it about this man that captivates so many people? Was it his unmatchable intelligence? His willingness to endure physical hardship? His ease as a Westerner in the Arab world? His clear vision for the future of the Middle East? Or was it something intangible: that Lawrence was simply meant to be a hero? Korda acknowledges that Lawrence was an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life, but believes all his accomplishments and success can be traced back to a single factor: that Lawrence believed in himself. "Lawrence, improbably, because he was only five foot five, saw himself always as a hero," Korda explained. "He had this firm conviction even as a child that by the age of 30 he would be a general, a hero and a knight. And had he still wanted those things when he was 30, he would have gotten them."
Lawrence's journey to greatness was a complicated and challenging one. He studied hard and sacrificed. He became a scholar of the classics and an archeologist. He learned Arabic. He practiced going without food and water for days. He never drank, smoked or swore and he gave up sex. He hired someone to both protect him and savagely beat him. He struggled with his fame and with the difficulty of foreseeing problems in the Middle East. (Korda argues that Lawrence anticipated the contemporary Israeli/Palestine conflict and the battle for control of oil.)
All this made Lawrence the man he was — and propelled Korda to write about him. "He is, I think, one of the single most heroic and unusual personalities of the twentieth century," Korda said.
Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia
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"From Michael Korda, author of the New York Times bestselling Eisenhower biography Ike and the captivating Battle of Britain book With Wings Like Eagles, comes the critically-acclaimed definitive biography of T. E. Lawrence — the legendary British soldier, strategist, scholar, and adventurer whose exploits as "Lawrence of Arabia" created a legacy of mythic proportions in his own lifetime..."
Read more at HarperCollins.