In "A Woman in Arabia," editor Howell organizes and explains excerpts of Bell's voluminous correspondence and diaries to shape our understanding of her curiosities, romances, hazardous journeys and, above all, frame her actions in the complex political maneuverings involved in establishing modern Iraq. Assigned to the Cairo intelligence office in 1915, Bell served as a spy but advocated for local autonomy and argued that schools and hospitals "provided a more convincing form of propaganda than any which could have been invented by the most eloquent preacher or most skillful pamphleteer." She preceded T.E. Lawrence (of "Lawrence of Arabia" fame) to the Middle East by about a decade, but her story has been overshadowed by his in contemporary culture — though Bell's story will finally come to the big screen this fall, with Nicole Kidman playing her in Werner Herzog's "Queen of the Desert."
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