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Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia (Phoenix Giants) Paperback – 7 Jan 2005


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Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia (Phoenix Giants) + Daughter of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell + The Desert and the Sown: Travels in Palestine and Syria
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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (7 Jan. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753802473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753802472
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 3.5 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 184,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

The untold story of Gertrude Bell, a woman as vital to the history of the Middle East as her friend and colleague, Lawrence of Arabia.

About the Author

Janet Wallach's own interest and expertise in Arab politics and history led her to the life of Gertrude Bell. She is a contributor to the Washington Post and other publications, and is the co-author of several books.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback
There have surely been few women who could be claimed to have had such an impact on history and yet be so comparatively little known. We arguably live in a world shaped by Gertrude Bell's actions, and yet how many people even know of her existence? And yet Gertrude Bell indeed led an extraordinary life, venturing alone across Arabian deserts, exploring ruins and abandoned cities, conversing with peasants and sheikhs, and that was all before her most influential years in the Middle East during WW1.

Iraq as we know it today can be traced directly to Gertrude Bell, the 'uncrowned queen of Iraq'. She was the one who drew the lines in the sand, so to speak, who defined the boundaries, who supported an independent government, who argued and cajoled for Faisal to become the first King of Iraq, who coached and encouraged him in the early unstable years. She was involved in everything from designing the flag to writing the constitution, drawing up palace protocol and table settings to establishing the first archaeological museum, the very one looted during the 2003 war.

It is a shame therefore that her biographer does not do justice to such a woman and such a life. Wallach takes a ridiculously romantic style, at times painting the stern, steely Gertrude as some sort of sighing, swooning Regency heroine. There was far too much poetic licence and purple prose for my tastes in a serious biography. That said, to her credit, she manages to paint a vivid picture of a fascinating, turbulent era in Middle Eastern history, easing the reader's path through an incredibly complex time in history. But some stricter editing of the more flowery passages and perhaps less emphasis on Gertrude's love life, or lack thereof, might have been preferable.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Paul Donovan on 17 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback
Gertrude Bell was, by all accounts, a woman who relished a challenge. She broke through the barriers of her era and environment, defying social norms and codes in order to achieve what even today is a remarkable list of accomplishments. It is therefore disheartening that a woman who overcame considerable barriers in life should be defeated posthumously by the obstacle of Ms Wallach's truly awful prose style.
The opening pages of "Desert Queen" seem to be written as a parody of early twentieth century pulp romantic fiction. As the reader struggles bravely on through the overuse of saccharine adjectives, the sickening realisation comes that this is not a parody - this is what Ms Wallach thinks appropriate for a biography of a woman of Gertrude Bell's character. The opening lines of the chapter on Baghdad cause the reader to recoil in horror. There is an earlier phrase about conversations bouncing around silk lined drawing rooms that leaves one gasping in disbelief.
The prose is quite bad enough to be going on with, but in addition there is more than a suspicion that historical accuracy has been dispensed with. The flowery descriptions of meetings and events leave the reader asking "how do we know that?" Was Gertrude Bell really meeting a local sheik with "eyes flashing like jewels" - and if from where do we get this fascinating insight? If from Gertrude Bell's own diary or letters, it would offer a fascinating glimpse into her self-perception and character. Ms Wallach does not want to burden the reader with sources or footnotes, and one is left with the distinct impression that this sort of comment is little more than an insight into Ms Wallach's own imagination.
Whole areas of Gertrude Bell's character are just ignored, or acknowledged in the most desultory fashion.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 22 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read Thesiger or Lawrence if it's desert adventure you want. Or read Alexandra David-Neel's Journey to Lhasa if its an adventurous woman you want. This is an indigestible tome of nearly 400 pages, about 350 pages too long. (I've read not quite a hundred, and am wondering whether to bother continuing.) The book is badly written (too much purple prose), sketchily researched, and very badly proof-read. I don't know what Janet Wallach's credentials, or qualifications to write such a book are. She explains only that Gertrude Bell "seemed an ideal subject for a biography" and that her curiosity was piqued by Bell's descriptions of journeying "surrounded only by Arab men" and (gasp) "sleeping in tents".
An early passage on mountain climbing is an example of insufficient research and poor proofreading : apparently Gertrude Bell "climbed Chamonix and the Mer de Glacé" as well as "the rocky face of the Finsteraarhorn glacier". (Well, perhaps you have to be a climber to appreciate how ridiculous that is.)...
Unfortunately, it is not only the biographer who is annoying, but the 'biographee' I found pretty unlikeable too. Her priviledged background - most of her travels seem to involve staying with her uncle the Ambassador - was not her fault, but she seems to have made no effort to see beyond it. And, it may have been a reaction to Victorian society, but her dislike of (almost contempt for)other women is not very attractive. SHE was as good as any man.......but other women were not. She went so far as to be active in the anti-womens-suffrage campaign.
All in all, a great disappointment.
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