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Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark
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Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  628 ratings  ·  78 reviews
The first biography published in America of Freyka Stark, last of the great female adventurers and one of the most engaging writers of the 20th century.
Hardcover, 402 pages
Published September 28th 1999 by Random House
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As a lover of biographies, I became interested in this book after reading a positive review from Modern Library. What could be more interesting than to read about a woman ahead of her time, fearless, captivating, smart and daring? Dame Freya Stark was all of these things, as well as a little "difficult".

Drowning in the despair of a dead-end future and smarting after a broken engagement, Freya decides to embark on a journey to the Middle East and from that moment establishes the course of an adve
The fascinating biography of Freya Stark, who traveled throughout Arabia and Persia between the two world wars. Her personal life was a mess, but she was an intrepid traveler, who demonstrated a strong respect for the Arab way of life. She learned several languages as an adult, used classical texts (e.g. Herodotus) as travel manuals, and discovered several valuable archeological sites. She published eleven books on Arabia, several others on Turkey, and her personal letters filled eight volumes ...more
Freya Stark lived a truly remarkable life. Born in Paris to an English father and an Italian mother of Polish/German descent, she was raised in Italy, chafing under the impositions of her vain, rather selfish mother who had left her husband to his bourgeois English life. Freya was largely self-taught, learning Arabic and Persian for fun, always fascinated by the Orient. She served as a VAD in Italy during WW1, and soon after set out on her independent travels in the Middle East.

And what travels!
Fascinating woman about whom I had absolutely no prior knowledge. Freya Stark was a traveler and writer basically, but she was also an explorer and map-maker and diplomat and possibly a spy. Her expertise was the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Persia, and so on. She started traveling at the age of 22 and didn't quit until she was in her 90s. Her personal life was a mess though, in spite of her charm and intelligence which worked so well elsewhere. She was spoiled, selfish, ...more
This is a biography of one of the Twentieth Century's most inveterate female travelers and experts on the Middle East.

Freya Stark was a mesmerising personality, and Geniesse's comprehensive biography captures that quality.

It was interesting to note that while Stark had the perspicacity to see some of the problems created by British colonialism, she, herself, was ardent British loyalist with a sometimes imperialistic attitude. She also seemed completely obtuse when it came to her private, romanti
Anastasia Hobbet
I read this in concert with her lyrical account of a journey with two other women with whom she didn't get along, A Winter in Arabia. She was so smoothly politic in the memoir itself--to avoid hurting their feelings--that I wanted to know the backstory. The biography gave me all that, au jus, but it also allowed me to truly understand this charismatic and brilliantly restless, self-promoting woman.
After reading this fascinating biography, it's hard to believe that so few of us have ever heard of Freya Stark. I read it while traveling in Israel and it was so easy to imagine this tiny, confident woman bravely setting out to explore the Middle East, nearly 100 years ago! If you have a sense of wanderlust and independence that needs a bit of a boost, and you like biographies, it's well worth a read.
I have asked so many women if they've heard of Freya Stark, and not a one of us had! Yet this tiny British woman (raised in Italy) wrote many popular travel books from her amazingly adventurous travels (usually alone) through the Middle East in the 20s through the 40s. She spoke many Arabic dialects, created maps of uncharted lands, was recognized by intellectuals for her expertise and wit. AND, she lived to be 100, and was knighted by the Queen! Freya was the center of attention from the Royal ...more
Karen Floyd
Wow, this is an amazing woman! Her endurance, tenacity and courage are an inspiration to all women. And men, too. She was an explorer and traveler in the best sense of these words, speaking the languages of the people she visited and getting to know them as human beings. She talked to everyone. Most of her journeys were undertaken with only a native guide and she traveled light, usually sleeping on the ground. The author presents Freya sympathetically, warts and all. I would like to have had mor ...more
This very comprehensive biography of Freya Stark reads better than fiction. It is well annotated but the notes don't detract from the flow of the reading. Excerpts from letters augment the text and add a sense of Freya's thinking of the time. Freya Stark asked her mother to keep her letters so that they could be used instead of a diary - she was definitely thinking ahead for what she would need when she wrote her autobiography!
Freya's goal to offer enlightenment has been achieved by the biograph
Very good bio of a very fascinating woman. I just read a book that referenced Freya Stark's route through Iran in her book Valleys of the Assassins, so I remembered that I'd always wanted to read this, and I'm glad I did. They just don't make'em like Freya Stark anymore. I enjoyed reading about even her foibles. This book is great for anyone who loves travel reading, unconventional women, or outrageous adventures.
The perfect follow-up to Desert Queen. A very well done biography, even though at times I got the strange sense that the author didn't like her subject very much. Huh.
A biography of someone I'd never heard of before and now wonder why not. This is the story of a very intelligent, curious woman who traveled extensively, especially in the Middle East. She had such a full life, it makes for interesting reading if not dramatic and thrilling. The book is written very well; the flow is flawless and it was a pleasure to read.
If someone made up Freya Stark you wouldn't believe her. This is biographical writing at its best. Freya comes to life, the time she lived in is vividly illuminated and since so much of it formulated the Middle East we are dealing with today it is absorbing. Well-written, well-researched and a good read.

This was an interesting book with an interesting subject, though I found the writing a little flat. Freya Stark comes across as the kind of person I would admire at a distance and detest as a friend as she was very prone to using people. I'm glad to have learned about this adventurous woman.
The worst part about this book is the title. Everyone thought I was reading a Harlequin romance. Freya Stark is an interesting person. She traveled alone around the Middle East and was fairly influential during WWII. I enjoyed learning about her.
I really enjoyed this biography of Freya Stark. She had a fascinating life -- always travelling to far-off places and learning as much of the culture as she could. I have only read one of her books so far but would like to read more.
A fabulous read! Freya Stark explored the Middle East a few years after Gertrude Bell, but did it the hard way -- without financial backing and so many of the comforts of home. This account of Stark's life and explorations expose both the subject and the places she visited in ways that only add to the reader's appreciation. Like many strong characters Stark isn't particularly likeable, but she certainly is fascinating. Immediately after reading this I went out and bought several of Stark's own w ...more
Michelle Commeyras
I love to read about women who have had adventurous lives in places beyond their homelands or passport nation.
Diego González
Highly enjoyable biography that also served as a timely overview of the history of the Middle East in the early 20th century.
Freya Stark, one of the last truly Romantic figures in British colonial history, studied Arabic during a convalescence, then proceeded to take part in many important events both archeological and political in the region, as well as serving in both World Wars.
A well written biography, this book feels like it gives the reader an excellent look into this fascinating person as
Mary T
Everyone who wanted to go to war in Iraq or is interested in the Middle East should read this book.
I cannot remember what previous readings led me to this book. I had never heard of Freya Stark. I was astonished by the breadth of her journeys, oftentimes alone into turbulent Islamic lands of others. She is presented as an intelligent, eccentric woman with an incredible drive and ability to achieve what few thought was possible. She was an explorer who expressed an appreciation for cultures and beliefs quite apart from her own upbringing.

I look forward to reading many of her books regarding h
Freya Stark was not shrinking violet. Born in the 1890s to English parents, she was raised mostly in Italy. She went to great lengths to learn Arabic and then traveled, against the advice of everyone, throughout the Mideast, drawing new maps and discovering the buried past.

For some reason, I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had anticipated. Maybe it's because I got the feeling I wouldn't have liked Stark as a person all that much? Maybe it's because her trips and personal relationships are des
One can only wonder in despair how much more promising the Middle East's future may have been had Freya Stark preceded Gertrude Bell. "She was certain that while the British did it better than anyone, it was better not to be doing good for people who didn't want to be done for."

Ms. Stark was a scrapper, a woman who made something out of nothing and demanded the respect due to her: "Freya was by no means sure she wanted to be a ...journalist....On her very first day, when none of her male co-work
What a fascinating and complex person was Freya Stark! And what a wonderful name!
Born in 1893 to British parents living in Italy, she managed to escape the rigidly confining expectations of her mother and society, while at the same time seeming to hold some of the most rigid traditional views herself. She became a world-renowned expert on the Middle East, Arabs, Islam, and more, and a widely acclaimed author. She must surely have been one of the most intrepid travelers of all time.
Freya Stark, a trailblazing female explorer in the mid-20th century, is the subject of this well researched biography. Freya Stark was raised in Italy and England by separated parents, and lead a colorful life even before she decided to take on the exploration of the Middle East. She had learned languages as part of her colorful education, and took on Arabic as a special challenge after the end of her First World War nursing career. She challenged herself to traveling in war torn regions and amo ...more
Perhaps I should have read this biography before naming my daughter Freya? No matter. Freya Stark was a truly fascinating and complex person, and Geniesse does her justice in this excellent and well-researched book. Stark was passionate about traveling, educating herself, always learning, and finding beauty, insight, and inspiration everywhere. I've loved her books, and I was really happy to learn more about her life and who she actually was - I was struck by how she constantly pushed to improve ...more
Although some of the extensive detail of Freya Stark's life can get a bit overwhelming, the author is to be complimented on her ability to capture the spirit of this amazing woman and her accomplishments. There is a good mix of focus on the woman as well as the political, historical, religious and cultural aspects of the countries that we are introduced to.
Freya's description of the missionaries of the 1920's "They suffer from stagnation of the brain, and that surely produces stagnation of the
Very engaging read that illuminates Freya Stark's origins,inner world, and complicated character as well as the Middle East that enchanted the British, a world that inevitably came to an end, to her sorrow. I discovered that she was a gifted writer and plan to read her own work too.
Sophie Patrikios
Probably an interesting woman, deserved a better biographer.
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“It was going to be hard, she was learning, not to be crushed or diverted by the criticism of strangers. She would have to be tough and look to herself for confidence. She remembered noticing as a child, when she had shuttled so often back and forth between her intellectual German grandmother in Italy and the silk-gowned and bourgeois grandmother in England, that people had very different attitudes about what was right and what was wrong, and were generally inclined to believe that only their own way was correct. Freya resolved to keep her mind open.” 2 likes
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