A Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year She has been called the female Lawrence of Arabia, which, while not inaccurate, fails to give Gertrude Bell her due. She was at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire: a nation builder, the driving force behind the creation of modern-day Iraq. Born in 1868 into a world of privilege, Bell turned her back on Victorian society, choosing to read history at Oxford and going on to become an archaeologist, spy, Arabist, linguist, author (of Persian Pictures, The Desert and the Sown, and many other collections), poet, photographer, and legendary mountaineer (she took off her skirt and climbed the Alps in her underclothes).
She traveled the globe several times, but her passion was the desert, where she traveled with only her guns and her servants. Her vast knowledge of the region made her indispensable to the Cairo Intelligence Office of the British government during World War I. She advised the Viceroy of India; then, as an army major, she traveled to the front lines in Mesopotamia. There, she supported the creation of an autonomous Arab nation for Iraq, promoting and manipulating the election of King Faisal to the throne and helping to draw the borders of the fledgling state. Gertrude Bell, vividly told and impeccably researched by Georgina Howell, is a richly compelling portrait of a woman who transcended the restrictions of her class and times, and in so doing, created a remarkable and enduring legacy.
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Chapter One GERTRUDE AND FLORENCE mmm It is 22 March 1921, the last day of the Cairo Conference and the final opportunity for the British to determine the postwar future of the Middle East. Like any tourists, the delegation make the routine tour of the pyramids and have themselves photographed on camels in front of the Sphinx. Standing beneath its half-effaced head, two of the most famous Englishmen of the twentieth century confront the camera in some disarray: Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, who has just, to the amusement of all, fallen off his camel, and T. E. Lawrence,
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