By: William Woods Cotterman
As a student for history any book any part of this diverse topic is in my opinion, a gem. Every so often one if found that offers a rare glimpse into a somewhat forgotten corner of this world. Improbable Women written by William Woods Cotterman offers us students just such a look. The work explores the lives, loves, struggles and triumphs of a small group of women who despite living in the world of men, traveled into dangerous and sometimes uncharted places in the Middle East. Starting with Zenobia, an ancient ruler and woman of strength and intelligence, cotterman explains how she served as an inspiration for the famous female travelers who would later cross oceans and deserts, valleys and mountains to visit the former seat of her power. All together, Improbable Women tells the stories of five women whose restless spirits and desire for adventure propelled them through the gender barriers of their time and of many of the different cultures they would explore.
Improbable Women is a detailed history of both the lives of the five female travelers and the times in which they lived an explored. The work provides a unique perspective on the historical events of the past century. From wars to the formation and dissolution of countries the women of this work play a pivotal and unique role in history. Some of these women played direct and vital roles in major historical and world changing events. Almost all of the women authored multiple books, while a few charted maps and others traveled to other parts of the world (the United States for one example) teaching and speaking about the many different peoples, tribes and cultures that comprise the Middle East. William Woods Cotterman compiled and extrapolated on very in-depth, and comprehensive research in order to author Improbable Women. The hard work and dedication shine through the attention to detail in this book.
Cotterman’s Improbable Women is an exhaustive journey back through the lives and times of five very improbably women. This is not your typical historical novel. A little bit dry at some points, this work is packed with details, quotes and excerpts from correspondence, geographical and cultural information. Reading about women’s experiences throughout history is always interesting and this period and topic is no different. If you are a student of history, especially that of women and their role throughout history, or simply of the region known as the Middle East, I would recommend this book. High school or college classes on either period specific courses, women’s history or the Middle East would greatly benefit by adding this book to the curriculum.