This brilliant but enormous book (no less than 1,366 pages) has been sixteen years in the making. Its obvious ingredients are 328,000 notes, documents and dispatches and Robert Fisk’s thirty years’ experience of reporting the Middle East. But there is also a hidden element – the author’s ethical, philosophical and moral approach to his life’s work.
After watching the England v India one day cricket match at Lords last summer, I had a drink with Peter O’Toole and then walked with him to his car. Outside Lords Tavern we passed a large group of young Indians having a few beers to celebrate their team’s victory. The moment they spotted O’Toole they broke into a chant of “Lawrence. . . Lawrence . . Lawrence.” Thinking about it later I realised how extraordinary this was. It was not O’Toole’s presence as an actor that excited them but the image of Lawrence of Arabia, a man who had lived and died before they were even born.