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  Sunday  October 21  2007    10: 45 AM

book recommendation

Desert Queen:
The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell:
Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia

by Janet Wallach

My library has a website where I can search the entire system for books and authors, put books on hold, check on due dates, etc. Very wonderful. But searching a database means that you need to know what you are looking for. The other day I was in the library with a few minutes to spare so I started searching the stacks of actual books. I was interested in a book on Lincoln but started to see what else there was in the history section. I came across this book. It's illuminating that, as we oversee the destruction of Iraq, we look at the creation of Iraq for it was Gertrude Bell that was the impetus in the creation of Iraq. A remarkable story of a remarkable woman in the age where women didn't go out in public without head covered and with a male escort. It's also another place to look for the cause and effect of history. More toppling dominos. More meddling violently in Middle Eastern affairs. From Amazon:

To Sir Mark Sykes, the pre-WWI British Foreign Office Arabist, "that damned fool," Miss Bell, created an "uproar" wherever she went in the Middle East and was "the terror of the desert." Three social seasons were all a young lady of good family was allotted to snare a husband. Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) had thrice failed and received the consolation prize, a trip to Teheran to visit her uncle, the British envoy there. After that, she could not be kept close to the dank family manse in Northumbria but was drawn to the sun-drenched Middle East. Dominated even there by her Victorian father, head of a family-owned ironworks, she was denied permission to marry a moneyless diplomat. She refused?to her later regret?a married lover in the military and assuaged her disappointment by pressing British interests in Arab lands east of Suez, becoming in effect the maker of postwar Iraq. The first woman to earn a first-class degree in modern history at Oxford, she wrote seven influential books on the Middle East and, following WWI, was named oriental secretary to the British High Commission in Iraq. Not just another book about an eccentric lady traveler, this colorful, romantic biography tells of a woman with an inexhaustible passion for place that did not always substitute successfully for continuing heartbreak. Despite some maudlin passages, Wallach, coauthor with her husband, John Wallach, of Arafat, vividly evokes a memorable personality.

The prose does get a little purple at times but it's well worth reading. Not only was she a king maker but whe was an archeologist and photographer. She founded the Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad, which we let be looted. She also took photos of her travels which are on the web along with her writings.

The Gertrude Bell Project

Men, horses and mules crossing desert water course
Near El Muwaqqar - Jordan
February 1900


Gertrude Bell
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gertrude Bell, a Masterful Spy and Diplomat

The extraordinary British diplomat and spy Gertrude Bell was buried 80 years ago today. After World War I, she was almost single-handedly responsible for the founding of modern Iraq, where her grave is still located.

Bell was the first woman to graduate with a history degree from Oxford and became one of the country's leading Arabists. She rode camels with the Bedouin in the Arabian desert and dined on sheep's eyes with tribal sheikhs.