During a time when women's lives were narrowly confined to family, Victorian Gertrude Bell accomplished extraordinary feats of exploration, scholarship and civil service. Bell was the daughter of a wealthy, educated industrialist from Northern England who recognized her intelligence and was willing to fund her education and travels that included mountain climbing. She was the first woman to receive a history degree from Oxford University. After her degree, she traveled to the Middle East where she fell in love with the desert. On subsequent trips she mapped archaeological sites and explored the Arabian deserts. She learned the necessary languages so that she could to talk to everyone from shopkeepers to sheiks. As the result of her intelligence work for the British Government, Bell obtained the post of Oriental Secretary and was instrumental in shaping the new country of Iraq.
Desert Queen is a richly detailed biography about an accomplished woman who made important contributions to the world's understanding of the Middle East. Wallach explores Bell's family life and her three love affairs. Photographs of Bell and the important people in her life help the reader to visualize this extraordinary woman and her participation in world events. The book gives an in-depth account of Iraq's founding and sheds light on the historical and religious conflicts inherent in the region. The last part of the biography focuses on the political maneuvers of the world powers after World War I.
Reviewed by ds, 9/07. Other reviews by ds.