Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Present at the creation

There is an excellent review in the current NYRB of the spate of recent books on Gertrude Bell, one of the architects of the benighted state of Iraq. Bell is an intriguing study--she was the first woman to graduate from Oxford with a coveted first-class degree in history and doubtless the only female with any expertise in those early postwar years, when the post-Ottoman Middle East was taking shape. Her efforts achieved about as much success as anyone else's in the fake state that Winston Churchill once likened to an ungrateful exploding volcano--the article is entitled "Queen of the Quagmire"-- but her story is worth your attention anyway.


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