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on November 18, 2010
We live in an age of celebrity as created by an immense media industry. Lawrence of Arabia embodied the word celebrity; in fact he may have been the 20th century's first real celebrity as Lindberg came after him. This book cries out to be read by a readership that understands that heroes do in fact exist. This word hero has been much misused in modern day America to apply to people that the word was never intended for.

Lawrence was very much a hero, as well as many other things. He was a military genius on a level with Napoleon. He also possessed a genius for guerilla warfare and his techniques are taught at West Point as we speak. Possessing a talent for writing, his Seven Pillars of Wisdom is considered a literary masterpiece. His direct actions changed the entire map of the Middle East, and the inability of politicians to adjust to the realities of this region that Lawrence saw so vividly have led to the chaos that we see in the Middle East today.

Sheikh Hamoud had it right when he wrote so many years ago of Lawrence:

My heart was iron, but his was steel

If you love great, gifted, writing on an immense topic describing a man that truly impacted and changed the world that he saw, than Michael Korda's biography of Lawrence of Arabia is for you. This is a 700 page narrative before footnotes and biography. The quality of the paper used in the book is fabulous, and this is due to Korda's lifetime in the publishing industry. The selection of the font and the feel of the book left nothing to chance. Korda thought through every aspect of this project and brought it off with flair, and panache.

He is a master storyteller and he has demonstrated considerable scholarship in creating this page turner which is so sweeping in scope covering one of the giants of the 20th century. Here are just a few of the things you will learn about Lawrence of Arabia:

* In his early 30's he translated Homer's The Odyssey which then became accepted as the classic account of Homer's work.

* Why King George on Lawrence's untimely death in 1935 said his name will live in history?

* He possessed a dazzling display of knowledge, almost Einstein like in the topics he could converse in. Lawrence never did anything halfway. If he was in, he was in all the way.

* As a young man, an illegitimate son, along with 4 other brothers, he managed to do amazing things at Oxford. He studied and more importantly absorbed the works of every great military tactician including Admiral Mahan, and Creasy's 15 Decisive Battles of the World. Lawrence's own thesis, The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture was recognized as an act of genius when he presented it.

* Liddell Hart considered to be one of the truly eminent military writers of the 20th century compared Lawrence to Napoleon, and used the term Napoleon coined "le coup doeil de genie" which means quick glance of genius. What this describes is that Lawrence had the scarce ability to look at a map (remember he was also a master mapmaker) and immediately know where to attack based on a unique ability in a glance to know intuitively how to attack. This is still studied at West Point, and is very rare in generals throughout history.

* If you want to know the depth of his influence on all who came after him, than consider this. Mao Zedong led a revolution in China based on his writings and theories. Ho Chi Minh forced the United States out of Viet Nam based on Lawrence's theories of guerilla war. I haven't even mentioned Castro and Che in Cuba using Lawrence as a blueprint for winning in Cuba. Lawrence is the original creator of the road side bomb we now see in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knew how to strike light, and disappear into the night. The term turn weakness into strength is his.

* The story of the making of the David Lean movie, Lawrence of Arabia which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and won 7 is told here in a beautiful fashion. Only Sam Spiegel, the producer at Columbia Pictures could have gotten this movie done. You will learn how the part was first offered to Leslie Howard, Lawrence Olivier, and then Albert Finney, until settling on newcomer Peter O'Toole.

In conclusion, if you love history and the grand expanse of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things then you are going to love this book. Lawrence was Hollywood handsome with a magnetic personality and charisma to match. His influence directly led to the creation of the modern Jordan, and the UAR (United Arab Republic). Iraq and Syria now owe their modern boundaries to Lawrence. Since the 1960's England has opened up its secret historical files on Lawrence. We now know that all the wild stories about Lawrence are true. It actually comes down to this. Lawrence did what he said he did, and even downplayed his own role in the affairs of which we know about.

I promise you that if you begin reading this book, you will not put it down, and you will be transfixed by what a gifted writer like Korda can do with a legendary impactful figure like Lawrence of Arabia. Thank you for reading this review.

Richard C. Stoyeck
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on December 22, 2010
This a very well writen and interesting book about a facinating man who lived and was a major player during a critical period in our history.

However, there are 1-3 typos on almost every page of the book I have read so far and I'm on chapter 4. Almost all of the typos involve one, two or sometimes three words bunched together to form word-abominations such as:

"himhave" "timewas" "anadventure" "discribinghis" etc.

I guess these errors were introduced when the book was digitized. I also guess that the book was not proof-read after this procedure.

These errors are begining to distract from my reading pleasure. A corrected version would be appreciated.
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on January 5, 2016
One of the best stories I've read about man's extraordinary will to live, and how this helped bring about rescue during escape as a POW. In the same league as "Into the Mouth of the Cat," (the story of, Vietnam, POW Lance Sijon and his refusal to submit to his captors demands while being held prisoner in North Vietnam's, ill-famed, Hoa Lo Prison <aka the "Hanoi Hilton,"> and his subsequent heroics leading to his being awarded, posthumously, the Medal of Honor), and "Code of Honor" (Col. <Ret.> John Dramesi's story of his time held as a, Vietnam, POW, and of his strict adherence to the 'Code of Conduct' <the military's precise rules for downed airmen, and others, who find themselves facing capture, imprisonment, and interrogation by their enemy>, and at what costs he did this). A must-read (this, and the other two books that I mentioned) for anyone who wants to know what a true hero is made of.
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on February 26, 2016
First, the story of Dieter Dengler is without question a very good one. Dengler, while flying a bombing run over Laos in 1966 in an Navy A-1 Skyraider, was shot down. He was captured by the communist Pathet Lao, spent about 6 months as a POW, escaped, and was miraculously rescued. I don't know the statistics, but I do know there were very few POW escapes during the Vietnam War. Dieter Dengler's story was well captured in the recent film "Rescue Dawn" with Christian Bale as Dengler. Author Bruce Henderson served with Dengler aboard the carrier USS Ranger, so this is especially poignant to him. The reader not only learns about the escape, but also a lot about carrier operations in the 1960's, navy pilot training, the air campaign over North Vietnam, and much of Dengler's life story. A whole lot of information. So far, so good - I give it about 4.5 stars.
For me, the minuses of the book are first - the quality of the writing. While by no means bad, the writing is surprisingly rote and did not grab me at all. I was also puzzled at what all Henderson included in the book. There's a lot that just doesn't pertain to the thrust of the story. Interesting, yes, but also distracting. Also at times, the book goes over the top with hero worship. I've seen it before in war stories where the author is very vested or actually took part in the story.
So although I found the book a quick and mostly enjoyable read, overall, I give it around 3.5 stars.
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on December 10, 2010
The title HERO references Michael Korda's contention that T. E. Lawrence (T. E. Shaw, Lawrence of Arabia) wanted to become a hero and had the opportunity to become one and succeeded beyond his expectations. Thus he became one of the 20th Centuries first "celebrities" mostly due to the promotion of Lowell Thomas's highly successful lectures, films and book. Korda maintains that Lawrence was the Princes Diana of his time. (This comparison being a good way to provide today's reader with an idea of the impact Lawrence had on the media culture of his own time.)
Despite the book being a bit uneven I found HERO a wonderful read. The first part through page 114 is a rather dry telling of Lawrence's major accomplishment in World War One. It covers Lawrence's meeting with Prince Feisal the background of the Arab revolt against the Turks and the Arab taking the port city of Aqaba. (The actual events are significantly different than shown in the great David Lean film.) This early flashback section contains important information and sets the tone for what follows but I doubt many will find it to be page turning reading. But keep going and don't give up.
Because then the book takes off and is quite an enjoyable ride as Korda goes back in time to Lawrence's childhood, family, education (at Oxford), and his interest in archeology, the middle east, and crusader castles. Korda frames all this so we can see how Lawrence swept himself along with heroic self images (and many self doubts). As if Lawrence knew he was preparing himself for something big for he became one of a few who understood the Middle East. (In fact after the war Lawrence had Middle East solutions that if implemented may have minimized many of the events we see today.)
Korda narrative provides an interesting analysis as he often presents the conflicting views about controversial observations of Lawrence by prior biographers and Lawrence's contemporaries. Lawrence was not a loner as many think, but a people person (and to a certain degree a people user) who had many friends and developed vital relationships. This he did through an uncanny ability to change his own personality and stories to suite that of his listener thus providing different views of his personality thus providing history with the fuel that formed the enigma that is the Lawrence legend.
I especially liked the fact the Korda spent a lot of time covering the creative side of Lawrence's character. How he wrote and rewrote SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM and went about publishing it. This and many post war events are most interestingly told by Korda.
For the most part Korda explains away the controversial questions about Lawrence as being nothing more than media hype. Taking things out of context and making more of normal human reactions than they deserve. Yet we see the influences on what may have created the real, human and complex person Lawrence was. His short stature although he did not appear to have the stereotypical short man complex. At 5 foot 5 inches Lawrence was very thin mostly around 130 pounds, but at one point in the war he was down to 88 pounds. He was illegitimate (a big negative in the class structure of the country in the early 1900s). His mother was extremely religious and his father walked away from title, property, and a family (a wife and four daughters) to run away with Lawrence's mother. Korda provides the reader more with emphasis and credence on Lawrence's relationship and feelings about his father than other biographers do.
I could go on and on about many interesting things Korda does in bringing Lawrence to life on the page but I suggest you discover the book on your own.
As an FYI, I have had an almost life long interest (hobby) in Lawrence and have collected may books and articles about him. This started when father took my brother and me to see the film a week after he had seen in 1962 as he had been intrigued by Lawrence as a boy. If you're interesting in reading or learning more you might consider exploring the following.
In several places Korda references Jeremy Wilson's book, LAWERENCE OF ARABIA: THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPY OF T. E. LAWRENCE (1990). This is an exceptionally fine and very detailed and well documented work which may contain more military details than many readers want to know. (Unfortunately I don't believe it is currently in print.) Mr. Wilson and his wife Nichole now own Castle Hill Press where they have edited and published very limited, fine copies of Lawrence's works and letters. I own several of these volumes and they are wonderfully produced. Their most recent publication is Lawrence's THE MINT. (Castle Hill Press can be found on the internet.)
I also greatly admired John E. Mack's A PRINCE OF OUR DISORDER, THE LIFE OF T. E. LAWRENCE (1976) which won the Pulitzer Prize. It is a psychological study with emphasis on how ones world view impacts relationships. (Mack went on later to do very controversial studies with people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens.)
I recommend a reading of many of Lawrence's letter. The volume I most enjoyed is THE LETTERS OF T. E. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1938, my Spring Books volume is 1964), edited by David Garnett with a forward by Captain B. H. Liddell Hart.
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on November 9, 2016
Excellent book. The author provides the story of the protagonist's life prior to his becoming a pilot, so we understand his personality. Details are provided to give a fuller story of his training and motivations, but not to the extent of bogging down the narrative. The book puts you into the story more as a participant than an observer. The book provides a good perspective on the wartime experience of one aviator, though an extreme experience, and helps the reader understand better the sacrifices made by those involved in the Vietnam war.
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on November 16, 2016
I really enjoyed reading this book. What people will do to survive is amazing and this is a great example of how people will do anything to live. I thought the bhai beginning was way long with details that really could be easily ommitted without effecting the story. The story flowed very nicely with the highlights being stories of when is was captured. A strong well written story with a great ending.
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on August 8, 2016
As a former helicopter pilot who served during all of 1967 in Vietnam in support of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, I am overwhelmed by this story. It was always the worst of fears to be captured by the enemy. Worse yet, those poor souls that found the misfortune to be imprisoned in Laos endured the impossible. As stated, none of them were alive when the war was over. This is well-written and should be read by anyone who seeks the truth about the misery of war but yet the amazing story of one man's will to survive.
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on April 23, 2015
An amazing true story of the kind of experience I hope most of us never have to endure.

The book is as factual as possible, amazingly well researched (only 80% of the book is "story," the Source Notes begin at 81% of the way through the volume), and quite well written.

This is not a book to read for entertainment. But if you are into history, especially history of the View Nam war, if you want an intimate and chilling look into what a POW in Laos went through, if you have a strong stomach, then you will probably enjoy this book.

I suppose it makes it infinitely more personal for me because I am of that generation, and like almost all American men my age, we can only shake our heads and think, "There but for the grace of God would have been me."

Very sobering. Sobering, yes, but also inspiring, to learn how Dieter Dengler persevered and survived, to witness the determination of the human spirit.

Worth the read.
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on June 2, 2016
Great read. I liked this book from start to finish. The story is gripping and I had trouble putting it down, and could have finished it in one continuous reading marathon. Having lived as a young man during the Vietnam war I can relate to ones having served in the US military at that time. The fact that we were fighting a war with hands tied, self imposed, limited warfare makes this mans dedication to duty and survival the more remarkable. One could only hope that they were not shot down and had to suffer the humility and punishment at the hands of their brutal captors. Reading of what they had to eat to stay alive, left me wondering if I could have done the same in their situation. I salute this mans courage and tenacity for his gutsy dedication to his and his comrades survival!
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