Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What I Read in February 2015 Part III

What I Read in February 2015 Part III . . .

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil WarLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott -- Non-fiction, women's history, Civil War

This book examines the lives of four courageous women during the American Civil War: two for the Union and two for the Confederacy. On the side of the Union there's Emma Edmonds, a Canadian woman who disguised herself as a man and fought, nursed and spied for the Union. There's also Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Union supporter living in Richmond who dared use her personal resources to help escaped prisoners and pass on information to General Grant. Honorable mention to her friend and former slave Mary Jane Bowser who worked undercover as a servant in the Confederate White House spying and passing information on the Union Underground Railroad of information. The Confederate women include Mrs. Rose O'Neale Greenhow, a beautiful widow living and spying in Washington, DC and Belle Boyd, a Virginia teenager enamored with Stonewall Jackson and the Southern cause who brashly and boldly flirted, flattered, spied and carried messages for the Confederacy.

The writing is lively and easy to understand for non-academics. Each chapter ends in suspense, urging the reader to keep reading. I got really caught up in the stories of the Confederate women, of whom I had heard but knew little and also Emma's story because I'm certain I read a YA fiction novel based on her story. It was thrilling enough without fiction. The one story I knew well was Elizabeth Van Lew's because of two fictional books I had read about her. Still I enjoyed reading the true story behind the fiction. The stories of these amazing women would make a great movie and no one would believe it! They were all so strong under enormous pressure. Their clandestine activities meant life or death and the fate of our nation was on line.

My biggest problem with this book is lack of footnotes. There are endnotes in the back but they're not numbered in the text. I know casual readers find footnotes annoying but I'm an academic and need footnotes. My other beef is the author likes to add little flourishes to her prose like "she left in a swirl of petticoats and a stomp of boots." or something like that. It's not good writing for a non-fiction book. Again I am sure that's what readers of popular history want but it's not the way I was taught. I was also taught to clarify - don't say mothers smuggled medicines in the heads of their daughters' dolls. How many women, where, when? This isn't even an accurate statement - there are two dolls in one museum believed to have been used to smuggle drugs during the Civil War. I also question some of the sources used in this book. Many of the information on Elizabeth Van Lew comes from family members decades after the fact.

If I wasn't an academic, I probably would have rated the book 5 stars. I think my grandmother, a history buff but not an academic, will enjoy this book. Civil War enthusiasts, women's history enthusiasts and spy history buffs will love this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.