Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

Georgina Howell, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $27 (481p) ISBN 978-0-374-16162-0

In this hefty, thoroughly enjoyable biography of Gertrude Bell (1868–1926), English journalist Howell describes her subject as not only "the most famous British traveler of her day, male or female" but as a "poet, scholar, historian, mountaineer, photographer, archaeologist, gardener, cartographer, linguist and distinguished servant of the state." As Howell observes, "Gertrude always had to have a project," and she manages to bring those multitudinous projects, studies and adventures to life on the page. "I decided," Howell writes, "to use many more of her own words than would appear in a conventional biography": a felicitous decision when the subject's letters, diaries and publications are as seamlessly incorporated in Howell's engaging text as they are. Bell's role in the creation of Iraq and the placement of Faisal upon the throne, is fully detailed, both to honor her power and to haunt us today. But the strength and delight of Howell's superb biography is in the fullness with which Bell's character is drawn. Having clearly fallen in love with her subject (though not blind to her warts), Howell leaves no stone unturned—family history, school days, Bell's clothes, sometimes her meals, her friendships, her servants, her thousands of miles traveled, her fluency in languages (Persian, Turkish, Arabic) and, yes, her romances. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/19/2007
Release date: 04/01/2007
Open Ebook - 512 pages - 978-1-4299-3401-5
Paperback - 481 pages - 978-0-374-53135-5
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