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Improbable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle East
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Improbable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle East

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Improbable Women examines the lives of five women writers, all upper-class British women, who rebelled against the conventions of their own societies and lived, traveled and explored the Middle East: Hester Stanhope, Jane Digby, Isabel Burton, Gertrude Bell, and Freya Stark.
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published October 22nd 2013 by Syracuse University Press (first published October 15th 2013)
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Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley. Might be changes before final publication.

Improbable Women is not a bad book. It really isn’t. Yet, I wanted it to be so much more than it was, and in some way it felt like a letdown. Part of this reaction is due to my own preferences when it comes to reading history, and part of it is something else.

Mr. Cotterman is clearly fascinated by the women that he details in this book – Queen Zenobia, Lady Hester Stanhope, Jane Digby, Isabella Burton, Gertrude Bell
Five very different women who influenced history through their surveys, writings, photographs, maps and ethnographies as they were, inexplicably, drawn to the Middle East. Lady Hester Stanhope was born in 1776, and Freya Stark died in 1993. In between, the world changed so much. Their lives, and those of Jane Digby, Isabel Burton and Gertrude Bell, intersected with those of Sir Richard Burton, Winston Churchill, both William Pitts, Lord Byron, T.E. Lawrence...

Their interests ranged from archaeol
Aug 05, 2013 Tammy marked it as didn-t-finish
Shelves: _netgalley
I find I'm not super-interested in what a bunch of colonial white women did in the Middle East. I'd rather read about "improbable" Middle Eastern women.
Oct 21, 2013 Shomeret rated it really liked it
Would you believe it took me two months to write this review?

The subjects of Improbable Women by William Cotterman are women from wealthy families who were explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was an era when ladies like these were supposed to be homebodies or charitable lady bountifuls if they engaged in any activity. This unconventionality made them seem very interesting to me. I had heard of all of them, but had never read anything about them. So I appreciated the fact that the publ
What do these five women - Hester Stanhope, Jane Digby, Isabel Burton, Gertrude Bell, and Freya Stark-have in common? According to Improbable Women, each of them were fascinated by Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra. Each of them have braved the dangers of the Middle Eastern desert to visit and pay homage to Zenobia’s Palmyra, a once great city that was destroyed by the Romans. Therefore, this book is a chronicle of these five women’s pilgrimage to the ancient ruined city of Palmyra.

Palmyra was once a c
Carrie Slager
Feb 09, 2014 Carrie Slager rated it it was amazing
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

As someone who personally admires Zenobia, I knew I just had to pick up Improbable Women. A biography of one of my favourite heroines as well as five other incredible women? How could could I not read it?

I was slightly disappointed in the level of detail in the biographies, but I’m fully aware that including enough details to satisfy me would have meant a separate book for each woman. If you haven’t hea
Sep 03, 2013 Mandy rated it really liked it
In every generation there are women who break the mould, who choose to defy societal norms and follow their own path through life. This fascinating book explores the life of 5 such women from different time periods – the mid-18th century to the mid-20th – all of whom were free spirits who became inexplicably drawn to the Middle East and chose to leave their comfortable lives in England to explore the area, and in some cases actually influence its history and politics.
The book begins with a chapt
This contains accounts of five upper class, British, women who explored and loved the Middle East. The book begins with the story/legend of Zenobia, the only woman in the book I had not read about before. The author painted Zenobia as a force that drew and inspired each woman but I felt like this was a little far-fetched. However, Zenobia’s section was interesting and left me wishing I knew more about her. The other five women were given brief sections that highlighted their lives and times in ...more
Aug 24, 2013 Sara rated it really liked it
I received an advanced reading copy via Net Galley.

This book is an account of five women who traveled the Middle East during the 19th and 20th century. Travel to this area during the Ottoman Empire was an extremely difficult and dangerous undertaking for the women. Also, intrepid journeys to an "uncivilized" land were not what was expected of middle class and upper middle class women of the day. These women were really bucking societal norms.

The author gives a nuanced account of each of women h
Sep 16, 2013 phoenix rated it really liked it
Shelves: galley, arc
Inspiring stories of upper-class British women (in past centuries) who transcended the narrow roles expected of women in their time's to travel the world. Each story is preceded by a potted history to put the time into context. Sometimes the author didn't distinguish between myths and historical facts.

Notes in the text provide references for quotes and historical events. There is an extensive bibliography with substantial sections for relevant history and for each of the subjects.
Feb 18, 2014 LaGina rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful read about women who are ahead of their time. The biographies and the profiles of the woman were done up so good that you didnt have any difficulties understanding them.
Melisende d'Outremer
Excellent start to finding out about five notable women explorers to the middle east. Though loved the intro on Zenobia myself.
SɪɱƿʟყƝì₭ rated it it was ok
Apr 24, 2014
Maggie Franz
Maggie Franz rated it really liked it
Jun 17, 2014
Kelley Gourley
Kelley Gourley rated it it was amazing
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Oct 21, 2013
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Renée Torres rated it did not like it
Jan 12, 2016
Syracuse University Press
Syracuse University Press rated it it was amazing
Nov 19, 2013
Sep 29, 2013 Amanda rated it liked it
An okay read with an excellent bibliography.

Advanced copy received via NetGalley.
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