Lawrence of Arabia and Charles A. Lindbergh

No, it’s not as far-fetched a connection as you might think.

I’m watching the great 1962 David Lean movie at this moment on TCM–an homage to the recently departed Peter O’Toole, of course–and I am reminded that that was not the first time that the Lawrence Legend had dominated American popular culture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the fall of 1927, T. E. Lawrence’s thrilling Revolt in the Desert was going head-to-head with Lindbergh’s “We” on the U.S. non-fiction bestseller lists.

Revolt was an abridged version of Lawrence’s massive Seven Pillars of Wisdom, published in England in 1922–a book more known about than actually read by anyone. Publishing  Revolt was a brilliant marketing stroke–a lean, exciting narrative of manly Western adventure in an exotic land, a book that brought Lawrence worldwide fame.

In fact, of the top 10 bestsellers in the non-fiction category in October 1927, most of them were biographical or autobiographical, and several were–like Lindbergh’s and Lawrence’s books–tales of heroic, questing adventure, including two by the perennially popular Richard Halliburton (This Glorious Adventure and The Royal Road to Romance) and Emil Ludwig’s epic biography of Napoleon.

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