I was three chapters into reading Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations, when I discovered the maps in the front of the book. Gertrude Bell, “poet, scholar, historian, mountaineer, photographer, archaeologist, gardener, cartographer, linguist and distinguished servant of the state,” was instrumental in helping define the borders of modern day Iraq. As I read descriptions of her late eighteenth and early nineteenth century expeditions through desert regions of what was then the Ottoman Empire, I knew it was impossible to continue reading without a map! These maps illustrate Gertrude’s trek to Amurath along the Euphrates River. Check out this close-up of the Euphrates River region. You can read the full text of Ms. Bell’s Amurath to Amurath at Presscom.co.uk.
Desert Queen: the extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell, adventurer, adviser to kings, ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach is another great contemporary biography of Ms. Bell. Want even more about information about Gertrude’s incredible accomplishments? The Gertrude Bell Project provides photographs, letters and diaries from her travels.
Funny how a biography or a historical novel can propel you into a new direction of reading and learning. Enamored of Gertrude Bell, I sought recommendations from fellow readers about nineteenth century women travelers. One suggestion for lighter reading was the Amelia Peabody mystery series. I began with Crocodile on the Sandbank. Naturally I was frustrated because I wanted to see a map of the Egyptian area this fictional archeologist roamed and rambled; I finally found what I was looking for on the author’s website! The author supplies two maps that allow the reader to “follow the trail of the independent Amelia Peabody Emerson and her archeologist family as they travel adventurously throughout Egypt encountering many mysteries.”
It seems that I yearn for a map every time geography is significant in a book. The next biography that I read, Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power, contained a chart showing the royal family, but no maps. Here’s a sentence about a trip to Kiev that aroused my map hunger; they “traveled via Serpukhov and Tula and then entered Ukraine; after passing through Hlukhiv (an important Ukranian fortress town which Catherine denotes by its alternative spelling of Glukhov), they arrived at Kozelets and the mansion of Count Kirill Razumovsky.”
So now I’m off to find a map of eighteenth century Russia …
What’s your favorite book that required a map or atlas by your side in order for you to know “where” the book was headed?
~ Mary D