“This therefore is a faded dream of the time when I went down into the dust and noise of the Eastern market-places, and with my brain and muscles, with sweat and constant thinking, made others see my visions coming true” (Lawrence, 1922, p. 10).
The above words have haunted me for at least the past five years. When I first read them in the introduction to the Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a Triumph by T. E. Lawrence, I knew I had struck literary gold: I could feel it in my body. I could not have been more right.
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is T. E. Lawrence’s (AKA Lawrence of Arabia) magnum opus, and one that “ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English language;” according to Winston Churchill. It is Lawrence’s account of his experiences during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18; a conflict which played a large role in making the Middle East what it is today.
But the Seven Pillars of Wisdom is more than just a memoir: it is a masterpiece. No, it is an experience. Lawrence’s words are imbued with so much power, so much emotion, that many times the sheer beauty of his writing has brought me to the edge of tears. This is not a book that was ever intended to make money (Lawrence himself refused to profit off of it), it was meant to be an extension of the author’s soul. And it is. When I first read The Seven Pillars, I felt as if I was talking with Lawrence himself; so clearly does his essence show through his writing.
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom has personal significance for me as well. I first experienced it during a down period in my life. Like many people in their early 20s, I felt lost and confused. The overwhelming beauty of Lawrence’s writing broke me out of my self-absorption and forced me to focus on it, and the adventure at the heart of this tale made me yearn for adventures of my own. The Seven Pillars also made me more interested in one of the most heavily stereotyped regions of the world: the Middle East.
Apart from being a literary masterpiece, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom describes the geography of Arabia and the customs of its inhabitants at the dawn of the 20th Century in great detail. Lawrence was uniquely able to describe the minute details of the desert landscape in the most captivating of ways. His love of the Bedouin is also contagious, and his writing opened my eyes to how rich Middle Eastern history really is. It is now one of my goals to explore this critical region when the political situation calms down.
To summarize, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom is like no other book. It is at once a historical thriller, a window into the world of the Bedouin, a natural history chronicle, and an exquisite literary masterpiece. This book has literally changed people’s lives, and it has the potential to do the same for you. All you have to do is read it, and allow it to inspire you to dream. For in the words of T. E. Lawrence:
“Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible” (1922, p. 10).