Desert Queen

Desert Queen

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

Book - 2005
Average Rating:
Rate this:

This "richly textured biography" ( Chicago Tribune ) inspired the mesmerizing documentary, Letters from Baghdad , soon to air on public television.

Here is the story of Gertrude Bell, who explored, mapped, and excavated the Arab world throughout the early twentieth century. Recruited by British intelligence during World War I, she played a crucial role in obtaining the loyalty of Arab leaders, and her connections and information provided the brains to match T. E. Lawrence's brawn. After the war, she played a major role in creating the modern Middle East and was, at the time, considered the most powerful woman in the British Empire.

In this masterful biography, Janet Wallach shows us the woman behind these achievements-a woman whose passion and defiant independence were at odds with the confined and custom-bound England she left behind. Too long eclipsed by Lawrence, Gertrude Bell emerges at last in her own right as a vital player on the stage of modern history, and as a woman whose life was both a heartbreaking story and a grand adventure.

Publisher: New York : Anchor Books, 2005.
Edition: Anchor Books ed.
ISBN: 9781400096190
Characteristics: xxii, 425 p. : ill., maps ; 21 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 22, 2017

Bell, born into a rich Victorian family, lost her mother to childbirth before she was three. In a way, she never recovered from that loss. Her father tried to make it up to her, and they were each other's best friends all her life. But she allowed him to rule her even when she was living in the Middle East, refusing to let her marry the man she chose. Bell never learned to get along with women, beginning with her stepmother. After being one of the first women to earn a degree at Oxford, but failing to snag a husband in the requisite 3 yrs, she went to stay with a diplomat uncle in the Middle East, and was hooked. Here she no longer needed a chaperone to go shopping, or travel into the desert and meet tribal leaders on the men's side of the tent. Freedom at last! During WW I her archaeological and map making skills earned her a place in the British spy corps, though not everyone could put up with her difficult personality. Lawrence, for instance, may have been her ally, but he didn't like her--but then he didn't like many women. After the war, she helped create the country of Iraq, for the good of Britain, and helped King Faisal settle in, though he'd rather have been king of Syria. Eventually, all her friends went home or died, and she became very lonely. She never married or had children, to her regret. Though Wallach doesn't say so directly, I'd guess Bell was clinically depressed much of her life. In 1926, 57 and ill, she took an overdose of sleeping pills, and died in her sleep. A fascinating look at a talented, flawed woman.

Jul 13, 2016

I recommend reading Gertrude Bell's travelogue "The Desert and the Sown" to gain an appreciation of her adventurousness, intelligence, and tenacity in exploring in Syria which laid the foundation for her stateswoman role in creating the state of Iraq described in the latter third of this biography. The events in Mesopotamia, following the Great War, are revealing for the light they shed on the roots of contemporary turmoil in Iraq.


Add a Summary
Jul 13, 2016

A thorough biography of the English woman who had a major role in the creation of the state of Iraq in the decade following the First World War based on her knowledge of Middle Eastern languages, and familiarity with the local tribes and geography from first-hand exploration. The biography provides endnotes, an extensive bibliography, maps, and an index.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at CAPL

To Top