"Interesting and highly entertaining. . . . It reaches back to these remarkable women and their exploits at a time when ladies did not travel so far and wide."—Laila Noman, American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
"Improbable women indeed. Cotterman presents extraordinary adventures of women who explored the Middle East in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during the time of Ottoman Rule. Courageous and confident, the women left conventional lives to venture into forbidden lands where even Western men were unwelcome. Cotterman weaves their stories into the history and culture of the area and explores the roots of today's situation in the Middle East. Well researched and a very good read."—Barbara Nichols, former Editorial Director of Health Communications Inc.
Zenobia was the third-century Syrian queen who rebelled against Roman rule. Before Emperor Aurelian prevailed against her forces, she had seized almost one-third of the Roman Empire. Today, her legend attracts thousands of visitors to her capital, Palmyra, one of the great ruined cities of the ancient world.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the time of Ottoman rule, travel to the Middle East was almost impossible for Westerners. That did not stop five daring women from abandoning their conventional lives and venturing into the heart of this inhospitable region. Improbable Women explores the lives of Hester Stanhope, Jane Digby, Isabel Burton, Gertrude Bell, and Freya Stark, narrating the story of each woman’s pilgrimage to Palmyra to pay homage to the warrior queen. Although the women lived in different time periods, ranging from the eighteenth century to the mid–twentieth century, they all had middle- to upper-class British backgrounds and overcame great societal pressures to pursue their independence.
Cotterman situates their lives against a backdrop of the Middle Eastern history that was the setting for their adventures. Divided into six sections, one devoted to Zenobia and one on each of the five women, Improbable Women is a fascinating glimpse into the experiences and characters of these intelligent, open-minded, and free-spirited explorers.
William Woods Cotterman is professor and Chair Emeritus of computer information systems at Georgia State University. He has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East.