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Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War. Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War. Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies. After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives. Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & white photos and 3 maps.


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Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War. Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War. Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies. After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives. Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & white photos and 3 maps.

30 review for Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    Four Civil War femme fatales? Yes, please. This book is EVERYTHING!* It's like A League of Their Own had a lovechild with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and Doris Kearns Goodwin's (DKG) Team of Rivals , and seasoned with an extra dash of siren song. (Or does one not season children?) Actually, it's hard to dream up a single concoction to represent all that is contained in Karen Abbott's Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy . It is a unique breed of narrative non-f Four Civil War femme fatales? Yes, please. This book is EVERYTHING!* It's like A League of Their Own had a lovechild with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and Doris Kearns Goodwin's (DKG) Team of Rivals , and seasoned with an extra dash of siren song. (Or does one not season children?) Actually, it's hard to dream up a single concoction to represent all that is contained in Karen Abbott's Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy . It is a unique breed of narrative non-fiction, with dialogue taken from primary sources (à la Eric Larson or DKG), but with a bit more literary leeway given (e.g. I can't imagine how one would garner access to the dying thoughts of a drowning woman and/or the extent to which a purse full of gold may have tugged at her neck). Additionally, the four women do not share a single story by any stretch of the imagination — a good thing if, like me, you enjoy "rotisserie-style" narration.** Setting the Scene: We open curtain around summertime 1861, which (and I hope you already know this) coincides with the American Civil War. Since any man worth his mettle is battlefield-bound (click the picture below, The Art of Inspiring Courage, for some of the means by which the lady-folk made sure of this), there are bound to be many changes in the women's world. While some members of the fairer sex were content to contribute to the war effort by darning socks, others went above and beyond the typical call of duty. Belle Boyd: Belle's name was the only one with which I was familiar prior to reading this book. If ever there comes a time when we all get to go back in time to slap a person of our choosing, Belle would be pretty high up on my list (though don't tell her that, she'd probably take it as a compliment).† "Why pick on poor Belle?" you ask. Where do I begin? For one thing, I have an (admittedly ironic) disdain for women who hate other women, and boy did Belle ever begrudge fellow females. She was also a media/attention hound (note how I refrained from using the word whore? oops!) before it was even a thing. When she was finally tossed into Old Capitol Prison (after her sixth or seventh arrest), she was "insulted" by the lack of torment she received relative to Rose O'Neal Greenhow (whom you'll meet soon enough). I couldn't help but feel smug satisfaction when I read that Belle was rebuffed by a fellow inmate in her constant search for a man to marry. Also, she was super into General Stonewall Jackson — to a near pathological extent (some might call it John Hinkley-esque), she tried to blackmail Lincoln, and so many other things, but my blood pressure can't take any more contemplation of the self-proclaimed “Cleopatra of the Secession.” Sarah Emma Edmonds: Unlike a certain southern drama queen, Emma Edmonds was hoping not to be noticed for her participation in the war. Why? Well, it wasn't strictly legal for a woman to impersonate a man to join the ranks (though, Abbott speculates, that there may have been up to 400 women who did so). However, Emma, not usually one for lying and deception, felt that it was her god-given duty to help with the war effort in whatever way possible. And, thus, one Frank Flint Thompson enlisted with the 2nd Michigan Infantry. "Frank" logged most of his time as a battlefield medic, known as a "field nurse" (which had no feminine connotation at the time). Her story has the trials that often come with being a woman playing a man, especially in context intense for all. Edmonds/Thompson's role got even more gender-bending when she was sent undercover as a man pretending to be a woman across enemy lines in order to collect some intel. Her story takes many a turn that I consider spoiler-worthy, so do with that what you will. Rose O'Neal Greenhow: Remember the lady who was lucky enough to receive way more torment than the envious Belle Boyd while locked up in Old Colony Prison? That would be Rose. And, while I'm no fan of Rose's politics, I've gotta give it to her when it comes to spycraft. There are over 174 documents intercepted going to and from Greenhow (some in pretty impressive ciphers) in the National Archives. Why so much fuss over Rose? Well, she was pretty good at her "job," which, after her recruiter/handler, Thomas Jordan, officially defected to the CSA and went off to war, was pretty much Spymistress of the Confederate Secret Service. And, arguably, it was her communication of Union intel to General P. G. T. Beauregard that sealed the Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run . Rose had access to important information as a Washington socialite, well versed in "flattering" information out of the city's political elites (and potentially paramours). So, soon enough, Detective Allan Pinkerton, head of the Union Intelligence Service, was building up a dossier of info on Rose's activities. Rose Greenhow, like Belle Boyd, had the annoying habit of "unsexing" herself (as far as I'm concerned, if you're running a spy ring and packing heat, you're kind of fair game), and then whining about how unfair it was to subject a woman to such barbarous treatment. Between referring to Unionists as "slaves of Lincoln...that abolition despot," and (pro-slavery as ever) describing seasickness as "..the greatest evil to which poor human nature can be subjected," my patience wore thin with Rose. Also, if you don't want your daughter, Little Rose, in prison, you should probably avoid using her as a spy. Elizabeth Van Lew (and Mary Jane too): Elizabeth Van Lew sacrificed what could have otherwise been a cushy life for her abolitionist beliefs. She emancipated her family's slaves (though some opted to stay as paid servants), and spent the bulk of her inheritance buying and freeing their relatives. Living in Richmond, hers was not a particularly popular position to take. Like Rose Greenhow, Van Lew ran a sizable spy ring, but her real stroke of genius involved a collaboration between Elizabeth and her much beloved servant (for lack of a better word), Mary Bowser aka Mary Jane Richards. Having taught Mary Jane to read and write, referring to her as a “maid, of more than usual intelligence,” was quite the understatement. Mary Jane had an exceptional eidetic memory, which was what made her such an amazing asset "on the inside," when Van Lew "offered" Mary Jane to Varina Davis, First Lady of the CSA. Parting words: In an attempt to keep this review from becoming book-length, I'll stop here. If the subject(s) of this book are of interest to you, then I highly recommend it. I enjoyed the writing well enough, though it was hard to separate content from form. However, there aren't nearly enough books out there on kick-ass ladies in Civil War lore, so thanks, Karen Abbott, for that! _______________________________________ * That's a thing kids say on the internet these days, right? ** Not a real term, but I can't think of a better way to describe the method of rotating among otherwise separate stories. Suggestions are welcome! † I feel like a lot of people would want to take a swing at Hitler, and I really hate waiting in line.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “Frank stepped forward. He was five foot six, two inches shorter than the average Union army recruit, solid but thin. He told the doctor he was nineteen years old, twenty come December. The doctor’s eyes skimmed his shoulders and back, torso and legs. He coiled his fingers around Frank’s wrist and lifted up his hand. He turned it over as if it were a tarot card, studying its nuances, noting the absence of calluses, the smooth palm, the slim and tapered fingers…[T]he doctor marked Frank Thompson “Frank stepped forward. He was five foot six, two inches shorter than the average Union army recruit, solid but thin. He told the doctor he was nineteen years old, twenty come December. The doctor’s eyes skimmed his shoulders and back, torso and legs. He coiled his fingers around Frank’s wrist and lifted up his hand. He turned it over as if it were a tarot card, studying its nuances, noting the absence of calluses, the smooth palm, the slim and tapered fingers…[T]he doctor marked Frank Thompson fit to serve as a private for Company F, 2nd Michigan Infantry. Frank took the oath of allegiance to the United States…He assured himself that this was a calling, that he had to do what he could ‘for the defense of the right,’ and that if he was careful no one would discover his secret: Frank Thompson was really Emma Edmondson, and had been posing as a man for two years…” - Karen Abbott, Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War Anyone who has spent time around children knows that they ask really fundamental questions. Specifically: Why? Why? WHY??? This can be excessively annoying. It can also serve to test basic assumptions about how much we know. Recently, I was watching an episode of Blood & Fury, a Civil War documentary, with my six year-old daughter, Emilia. While we sat on the couch, Emilia asked: “Were there any girls in the Civil War?” “Sure,” I said confidently. Then I rattled off a few names: Dorothea Dix, superintendent of nurses; Clara Barton, nurse extraordinaire; and Mary Chestnut, the famed diarist. Emilia was partially interested, especially in Chestnut. Like Chestnut, Emilia is an inveterate journal-writer. Indeed, my wife found a discarded page from her diary that said: “This is my Dad[’s] favorite thing[:] it is the Civil War.” (Note: This is not entirely true. She is my favorite thing. The Civil War is top ten). Still, I could tell the answer was not enough. Finally, a bit frustrated with my attempts to explain the U.S. Sanitation Commission, Emilia blurted out: “No, I mean did any girls fight in the war?” Yes, I answered resolutely. And when Emilia asked me to explain, I sort of trailed off… Like I said, kids test our basic assumptions of what we know. I pride myself in Civil War knowledge, and yet it only took a six year-old five minutes to derail that knowledge train. That’s what led me to Karen Abbott’s Liar Temptress Soldier Spy, the story of four remarkable women and their experiences in the American Civil War. Importantly, none of these four women conformed to contemporary gender norms. They were not, for the most part, caretakers or observers. They partook in the action. Two of them went to the front lines. Two of them killed. One of them gave her life for her cause. This is a side of the Civil War I had not experienced before. The four women that we follow are Confederates Belle Boyd and Rose O’Neal Greenhow, and Unionists Emma Edmonson (a.k.a., Emma Edmonds, a.k.a. Frank Thompson) and Elizabeth Van Lew. Belle Boyd is a name you might recognize, which is how she would have wanted it. A young girl at the start of the war, she killed a Yankee that insulted her mom, and later made a name for herself as a spy, though her exploits seem more the product of self-promotion (and a great, alliterative name) than the accumulation of actionable intelligence. Of all the women, she has the least substance. She was most motivated by fame, excitement, and the whims of her passions, attested to by the fact that she actually ended up marrying two different Union men. Marrying a Yank is something that Rose Greenhow never would have deigned to consider. She hated them with all the passion of her being. For my money, she is the most interesting, and also the most awful, of Abbott’s four subjects. She is truly the villain of the piece. A successful spy, a prisoner, and later a Confederate emissary to Europe, she was also a poisonous racists, and a bit of an anti-Semite to boot. Rose wore her hypocrisy lightly, armored as she was in a noxious self-righteousness. Her fate was an almost biblical combination of sea and storm and tainted Confederate gold. On the Union side, we have Emma Edmonson, a young woman who enlisted as a man, managed to remain undetected, and served in a variety of roles, including nurse, spy, and postmaster. At one point, she dyed her skin and snuck into Yorktown disguised as a black man. At another time, she claimed to have dressed up as a poor Irish woman in order to gather intelligence, meaning she was a woman, dressed as a man, pretending to be a woman (with a brogue!). It calls to mind Robert Downey, Jr., in Tropic Thunder: “I know who I am! I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!” Despite her fascinating exploits, I found her sections to be the biggest letdown. Finally, there is Elizabeth Van Lew, perhaps the least known of the four, and also possibly the best of the bunch. A wealthy woman who lived in Richmond, she was a Unionist and abolitionist who risked her life and dispensed her fortune attempting to help Union soldiers escape from Libby Prison. In her spare time, she also ran a successful spy ring. General Ulysses Grant was so pleased with her efforts that he appointed her postmaster of Richmond during his administration. She lived long enough to see a statue of Robert E. Lee erected in town, while her name drifted into obscurity. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy is almost a can’t-miss proposition. The women chronicled here are inherently fascinating, ideologues and iconoclasts who cared so deeply in what they did that they were willing to bend societal norms even before they risked their very lives. Abbott tells their stories in chronological fashion, alternating chapters as the war progresses. She writes in a novelistic style, right down to the thoughts in each woman’s head (which Abbott insists she derives from primary sources). This makes for an incredibly readable book, one that I finished quite fast. There are things to learn here, even if you’ve read a dozen books on Gettysburg and know every hair on Bob Lee’s beard. Still, this had its shortcomings. Abbott never specifically states (or at least I did not see) why she chose these four women in particular. My deduction is that it’s a function of extant documentation. Boyd, Greenhow, Edmonson, and Lew all wrote memoirs, providing first person accounts of their war years. Unfortunately, at times, it felt like Abbott was simply paraphrasing these memoirs, right down to the ragged transitions and glaring plot holes. There were also many instances when an incident is passed off as the truth, when it is likely an exaggeration, a fabrication, or an outright lie. Abbott seldom pauses in her narrative to give you a BS warning. Instead, you have to go to the back of the book, to the endnotes, where she will sometimes provide amplification. However, in keeping with this book’s popular bent, it has no endnote numbers in the text, meaning there is absolutely no indication when you should be flipping towards the end. More importantly, in choosing a pure narrative style, I feel like Abbott missed out on a grand opportunity to explore these women’s interior lives. In the rush to deliver a fast-paced, breathtaking tale, something gets lost. To be sure, she tells us exactly what happened to them; unfortunately, she never gets around to exploring why. Questions of desire, of motivation, are never posed. For instance, the chapters on Emma/Frank were sorely disappointing. Emma started dressing as Frank two years before she enlisted, meaning her act was not simple martial ardor. Yet this aspect is never discussed. Was she conflicted about her gender identity? Was she simply exploring some facet of her personality? Who knows? Functional details, such as how Emma was able to convince everyone she was a man, even when she had to go to the bathroom multiple times a day, are completely glossed over. I wanted some idea of how a woman could survive in the ranks surrounded by men. I did not get that here. I think Liar Temptress Soldier Spy could have been considerably deeper and richer. It provides the raw materials for a really insightful look into societal expectations of the 19th century, something that would still resonate powerfully today. Rose Greenhow, for instance, could not legally vote or enlist, but she also recognized that the chivalry and deference she was accorded due to her sex could be weaponized, made into a tool to achieve her ends. In fact, to a certain extent, all four women took advantage of the perceptions about them as women. They turned assumptions of frailty into strength; assumptions of pacifism into ruthlessness; assumptions of timidity into courage. It is an inspiring story. Abbott tells it well. I wish she had told it better.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carly

    DNF. I made it over halfway, but I give up. To me, the most important aspect of nonfiction is that it be nonfiction. Unfortunately, writers of pop nonfiction usually go for the most sensational versions of the truth that they can find. To my mind, this book falls into that trap. Abbott's book is clearly well-researched, but she tends to present as fact information from such dubious sources as the women's own memoirs or stories from Harper's Weekly. Since many of the women parleyed their life storie DNF. I made it over halfway, but I give up. To me, the most important aspect of nonfiction is that it be nonfiction. Unfortunately, writers of pop nonfiction usually go for the most sensational versions of the truth that they can find. To my mind, this book falls into that trap. Abbott's book is clearly well-researched, but she tends to present as fact information from such dubious sources as the women's own memoirs or stories from Harper's Weekly. Since many of the women parleyed their life stories into various careers, it was in their own interests to make them as sensational as possible. I also felt that Abbott doesn't carefully delineate from her own embroidering and her sources. She doesn't tend to attribute her "facts" to any particular source, even when they come from such dubious places as Belle Boyd's romanticized versions of events. She also repeats stories from Sarah Emma Edmonds' memoir, though even Abbott can't quite swallow some of the ones that are provably false. Like Boyd, Edmonds sold her memoir and thus had reason to make it as sensational as possible. I don't really believe, for example, that she visited home in her male disguise and that her mother broke down in tears because "Frank" reminded her of her lost daughter and that she dramatically uncovered her true identity to the rejoicing of her mother and sister. Abbott swallows it hook, line, and sinker. I dispute many of Abbott's facts, such as her inclusion of such tall tales as the soldier at Bull Run who was saved by a Bible in his pocket (his name was William Preston Magnum, and while there's no real evidence that the bullet was deflected by his Bible, it is an indisputable fact that he died from his wounds a week later and was buried at Manassas.) The overwritten, purple-prosy style didn't do much for me either. If I wanted to read Victorian over-sensationalism, I'd go pick up the ladies' memoirs. To be clear, I do think that Abbott has sources for all of the stories she tells. I just don't believe the veracity of her sources. I think these women were incredible and fascinating. I believe they deserve to have their true stories told, not the hyperbolic and romanticized versions that their lives inspired. Cross-posted on BookLikes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Karen Abbott's History of Four Women in the American Civil War I am always on the women's side.-The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut Whoever said history has to be dull? Well, when Newsweek Magazine asked one thousand Americans the same U.S. Citizenship Test questions required for an immigrant to gain United States Citizenship, 38% must have found it pretty dull stuff. They failed. Seventy percent couldn't tell you what the Constitution was. That's a pretty bleak loo Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Karen Abbott's History of Four Women in the American Civil War I am always on the women's side.-The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut Whoever said history has to be dull? Well, when Newsweek Magazine asked one thousand Americans the same U.S. Citizenship Test questions required for an immigrant to gain United States Citizenship, 38% must have found it pretty dull stuff. They failed. Seventy percent couldn't tell you what the Constitution was. That's a pretty bleak look on Americans' knowledge about their own country. Take The Quiz: What We Don't Know Newsweek Magazine, March 20, 2011. So it is especially refreshing to find a book as skilfully written by an author as talented as Karen Abbott who brings a lesser known area of the American Civil War brilliantly alive. Any reader will find her story of four women and their involvement in the American Civil War anything but dull. With the skill of a novelist, Abbott weaves the lives of four exceptional and independent women into the complex history of the times. Nor does Abbott accomplish her task without the credentials to back up her work. Abbott writes the History column for Smithsonian.com and Disunion, the continuing series on the American Civil War for The New York Times. Karen Abbott is the author of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul, and American Rose. Writing of strong, independent women, outside traditional roles, I consider her a feminist historian. Oh. Don't be misled by the author's looks. Yes, she's a beautiful woman. Yes, she certainly turned this reader's head. But make no mistake about it. She has a mind as sharp as the finest Toledo steel. This is a history that is fully noted with a bibliography of sources that should satisfy any historian. Writing of women's role in the American Civil War, Abbott said in her introductory note: Some--privately or publicly, with shrewd caution or gleeful abandon --chafed at the limitations society set for them and determined to change the course of the war. In the pages that follow I tell the story of four such women: a rebellious teenager with a dangerous temper; a Canadian expat on the run from her past; a widow and a mother with nothing else to lose; and a wealthy society matron who endured death threats for years, and lost as much as she won. Each, in her own way, was a liar, a temptress, a soldier, and a spy, sometimes all at once." If that doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what will. Belle Boyd, the teenager with the dangerous temper. Belle was seventeen when the war began. She lived with her parents in Martinsburg, Virginia, near the top of the Shenandoah Valley. She was impetuous. As one of the belles of Martinsburg described her, she was "man crazy." When Union troops entered Martinsburg and invaded her home, she killed a Yankee soldier whom she thought was too rough with her mother. Early in the war, there were no repercussions. The North wanted no repercussions among Southern civilians--yet. Belle's father was a member of Stonewall Jackson's Brigade, though he had not earned that nickname yet. During the battle of Falling Waters, Belle Boyd ran across the field of battle to warn Jackson of the number and deployment of Union troops. She was instrumental in Jackson's victory. Belle, ever the romantic, became enamored of Jackson. Surprise. Belle's feelings were not returned. Eventually Belle became a courier for the Confederacy. She was imprisoned in the Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. She was subsequently exiled to the South, paroled on the condition that she never return to Union soil. Ironically, Martinsburg was located in what became West Virginia. Belle Boyd would be exiled from home or in violation of her parole. It is left to the reader to discover what happened to Belle. Rose Greenhow, the widow and mother with nothing left to lose. To be continued...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jay Schutt

    Reluctantly, I'm giving this book 2 stars for the author's/publisher's efforts, but the truth is, I did not finish/could not finish this book. Let me explain. I had great expectations for this, but whoever put it together should be hung. The author's content was excellent; very informative and well-researched, but whoever laid out the format in which it was presented did a terrible job. The four Civil War era women whose life stories were told had their lives laid out together in timelines for ea Reluctantly, I'm giving this book 2 stars for the author's/publisher's efforts, but the truth is, I did not finish/could not finish this book. Let me explain. I had great expectations for this, but whoever put it together should be hung. The author's content was excellent; very informative and well-researched, but whoever laid out the format in which it was presented did a terrible job. The four Civil War era women whose life stories were told had their lives laid out together in timelines for each of the four years of the war. There was no continuity as each life was broken up by the next, then the next and finally by the last multiple times for each year. Very, very distracting. I just couldn't take it anymore and disappointingly gave up. I think the best way to learn about these four women is to wikipedia them one at a time. Perhaps I will give this another try in the far, far future, but I think most likely not.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joy D

    Karen Abbott takes a look at four women of the American Civil War, two Northern and two Southern: Elizabeth Van Lew, Emma Edmonds (aka Frank Thompson), Rose Greenhow, and Belle Boyd. She sheds new light on the roles of women in the Civil War and highlights little-known activities of her subjects. This book shows how some women exploited social mores and beliefs to advance their respective wartime causes. Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy abolitionist living in Richmond who supported Union prisoner Karen Abbott takes a look at four women of the American Civil War, two Northern and two Southern: Elizabeth Van Lew, Emma Edmonds (aka Frank Thompson), Rose Greenhow, and Belle Boyd. She sheds new light on the roles of women in the Civil War and highlights little-known activities of her subjects. This book shows how some women exploited social mores and beliefs to advance their respective wartime causes. Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy abolitionist living in Richmond who supported Union prisoners from her home. Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man in order to become a Union soldier. Rose Greenhow, a socialite living in Washington DC, assembled a courier network of southern sympathizers. Belle Boyd used flirtation as a technique for obtaining information to pass to the Confederacy. I listened to the audiobook, read by Karen White in a clipped style. On the plus side, the narrative maintains the reader’s interest throughout. It is filled with period details, intrigue, setups, and daring schemes. It pulls no punches in describing the carnage of this war and gives the reader a sense of how horrible it truly was. On the minus side, the author states that she will point out where the journals do not match facts but does not follow through. As a result, it feels like the book repackages the women’s own memoirs and ends up conveying their biased viewpoints.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paige

    When I say I want to read about interesting women, this is EXACTLY what I mean. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy tells the story of: •BELLE BOYD : self proclaimed "Cleopatra of the Succession" and a real piece of work. Before the age of 20, Belle had already killed a man, become a spy for the Confederacy, and been arrested (for being a spy). Always on the lookout for a husband, and pathologically obsessed with Stonewall Jackson, Belle Boyd flirted and canoodled her way through the Civil War. I found When I say I want to read about interesting women, this is EXACTLY what I mean. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy tells the story of: •BELLE BOYD : self proclaimed "Cleopatra of the Succession" and a real piece of work. Before the age of 20, Belle had already killed a man, become a spy for the Confederacy, and been arrested (for being a spy). Always on the lookout for a husband, and pathologically obsessed with Stonewall Jackson, Belle Boyd flirted and canoodled her way through the Civil War. I found her epilogue in particular extremely interesting. •EMMA EDMONDS : youngest child of a father who never loved her, Emma pulled a Mulan and joined up. Serving in the Union army as a war nurse, post master, and spy, Emma (who went by the name Frank Thompson) managed to conceal her gender for years, all the while surrounded by thousands of soldiers - never able to let her guard down. Emma's story was my personal favorite, and I highly recommend this book if only for Emma. •ROSE O'NEALE GREENHOW : another piece of work. Rose, a widow with a young daughter (named Little Rose), became a Confederate spy whilst living in Union territory. Rose gathered an astonishing amount of information and passed it on in the early days of the war. Rose's whole thing was seduction. She had many an affair with Union soldiers, all for the cause. While I didn't agree with her politics or personal beliefs, I can respect that this woman was damn formidable. • ELIZABETH VAN LEW: abolitionist and spy. Elizabeth lived in Richmond and spied for the Union. She could easily have lived a quiet life of comfort, but instead, she spent the majority of her sizable inheritance freeing slaves and helping smuggle Union POWs to safety. Elizabeth would go on to become close friends with Ulysses S Grant, but would continue to be ostracized by Richmond society following the war. Each one of these women were compelling. Even though I didn't agree with all of their actions or beliefs, I respect every one of them for having the conviction to stand by their beliefs and the follow through to do something about it. Update: Since reading this I've been seized by a wild desire to read and/or watch Gone With The Wind.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is the non-fiction account of four women during the U. S. Civil War: Rose Greenhow, Elizabeth Van Lew, Emma Edmonds, and Belle Boyd (guess which side she was on). Two are Confederates and two Unionists, each spied for the cause they embraced and suffered for doing so. The first half of the book was quite interesting and read more like fiction than non, with the narrative storylines. But, somewhere around the middle it got bogged down and began to drag. Never a good t Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is the non-fiction account of four women during the U. S. Civil War: Rose Greenhow, Elizabeth Van Lew, Emma Edmonds, and Belle Boyd (guess which side she was on). Two are Confederates and two Unionists, each spied for the cause they embraced and suffered for doing so. The first half of the book was quite interesting and read more like fiction than non, with the narrative storylines. But, somewhere around the middle it got bogged down and began to drag. Never a good thing when I am just wondering when I will get to the end. I was surprised that I had not ever heard of any of these women before. I do not remember any of them being mentioned during the Ken Burn’s Civil War series. At least one of them, Elizabeth Van Lew, may have had a marked impact upon the outcome of the war.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cher

    2 stars - Meh. Just ok. The synopsis to this book promised a fascinating read and it does indeed start strong. Hearing the back story of the four main historical figures was very interesting. Unfortunately, once the introductions were over it became a dull, dry read, akin to reading history from a textbook. The author mentions that all included dialogue is factual, based on her sources, and it seems that after doing so much research, she wanted to include every tedious event, quote and tidbit tha 2 stars - Meh. Just ok. The synopsis to this book promised a fascinating read and it does indeed start strong. Hearing the back story of the four main historical figures was very interesting. Unfortunately, once the introductions were over it became a dull, dry read, akin to reading history from a textbook. The author mentions that all included dialogue is factual, based on her sources, and it seems that after doing so much research, she wanted to include every tedious event, quote and tidbit that she had uncovered. By the end I had a very difficult time forcing myself to pay attention and would have never finished it were it not a book club selection. ------------------------------------------- Favorite Quote: N/A. First Sentence: For a period of thirty-three hours, from just before dawn on April 12, 1861, to mid-afternoon the following day, sleep was hard to come by, in both North and South.

  10. 5 out of 5

    LillyBooks

    I *loved* Abbott's Sin in the Second City, so I put this book on hold the minute I heard it was going to be published. And I did enjoy it, especially as woman are so often overlooked in Civil War history (well, history in general) unless Scarlett O'Hara is present. But it felt a little fractured to me. It may have been the way it was told, jumping back and forth from story to story just when I getting immersed in one life. Partially, I thought it was too long, so all of Abbott's delightful snazz I *loved* Abbott's Sin in the Second City, so I put this book on hold the minute I heard it was going to be published. And I did enjoy it, especially as woman are so often overlooked in Civil War history (well, history in general) unless Scarlett O'Hara is present. But it felt a little fractured to me. It may have been the way it was told, jumping back and forth from story to story just when I getting immersed in one life. Partially, I thought it was too long, so all of Abbott's delightful snazziness from her first book was missing (granted, they are two very different topics). She might have been better served by focusing on just one or two of these woman, in more depth, than on all four. Although I don't know which ones to leave out, as I thought she included a good cross section of experiences and used them to successfully illustrate the various reactions men had to meeting these strong women. One of my biggest complaints, though, is that this is the second book I have read this year that tries to "novel up" (my phrase) nonfiction accounts. What I mean by that is that even though the author may use the actual conversations as recorded, they embellish the scene with all sorts of details we couldn't possibly know: the curtains fluttering the breeze, the sound of taffeta, etc. At least Abbott knows she is doing it and admits in her introduction, but I still don't like it. Her first book proved she is an excellent nonfiction writer who is able to find and use the correct tempo without the need for fanciful extraneous details.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" is a fantastic nonfiction narrative about four women and their daring undercover actions during the Civil War. In my own head, I typically don't think about women having a role in fighting the Civil War. We don't typically hear about them out on the battle field unless they are in a nursing role. This book sheds light on some of the bravery that women showed during the Civil War. The Civil War definitely isn't my favorite historical event to learn about but with bo "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" is a fantastic nonfiction narrative about four women and their daring undercover actions during the Civil War. In my own head, I typically don't think about women having a role in fighting the Civil War. We don't typically hear about them out on the battle field unless they are in a nursing role. This book sheds light on some of the bravery that women showed during the Civil War. The Civil War definitely isn't my favorite historical event to learn about but with books like this to make it a lot more exciting to me, it makes me think that maybe I need to give the Civil War more than a passing glance when it comes to my reading. I love nonfiction, especially narrative non-fiction. This book has something for everyone. There's great people and great story lines. There's intrigue and espionage. I found myself reading parts of it to my husband even though I'm totally making him read this book now that I've finished!!! This book is anything but dry and feels very much like fiction. The way that the author weaves in so much detail about these four women and their lives really drew me into the book. Some of the women identify with the Union and some identify with the Confederacy but all four are committed to their various causes. It was so interesting to me to see how of these women were able to move about in a society that it wasn't necessarily very permissive for women at that time. I love that the way that the author told the story of all of these women. It was really well done and I would love to read more by this particular author!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Denise Mullins

    What a disappointment!I make it a point to completely read any book borrowed, but in this case, I admit defeat. The voice and tone of this book are totally inappropriate. Ms Abbott seems committed to using a brutally plain rhetoric that she then combines into a syrupy Blanche Dubois phrasing that really rankles. Moreover, many fascinating facts and details are clumsily lumped into a clothesline of events that becomes numbing and loses all emotional impact. This book seems more like a cut and pas What a disappointment!I make it a point to completely read any book borrowed, but in this case, I admit defeat. The voice and tone of this book are totally inappropriate. Ms Abbott seems committed to using a brutally plain rhetoric that she then combines into a syrupy Blanche Dubois phrasing that really rankles. Moreover, many fascinating facts and details are clumsily lumped into a clothesline of events that becomes numbing and loses all emotional impact. This book seems more like a cut and paste from Wikipedia; it lacks adroit development and polish.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susanna - Censored by GoodReads

    I cannot help but visualize Belle Boyd as Erica Kane in crinolines. Her chapters inevitably had me laughing my head off.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    W O W. I have to say that nonfiction has always been my jam. I have read a lot of it and am always adding to my TBR list. I would love to take a year where I read nothing but nonfiction. I actually almost swooned when I typed that. Anyway, I digress. Because I read a lot of this genre, I have favorite time periods and people and places. And the Civil War is right at the top of that list [along with Abraham Lincoln, Grant, Harper's Ferry and John Brown etc etc]- not because war is my jam [it most W O W. I have to say that nonfiction has always been my jam. I have read a lot of it and am always adding to my TBR list. I would love to take a year where I read nothing but nonfiction. I actually almost swooned when I typed that. Anyway, I digress. Because I read a lot of this genre, I have favorite time periods and people and places. And the Civil War is right at the top of that list [along with Abraham Lincoln, Grant, Harper's Ferry and John Brown etc etc]- not because war is my jam [it most certainly is not], but because the tenacity of the north and their refusal to give up in the face of insurmountable odds is just so inspiring to me. And in all the books that I have read, I have never, ever, read about these four amazing [even the southern spies] women. I was just blown away from their stories. I cannot even imagine doing what they did [especially Elizabeth Van Lew, who lived in Richmond {the heart of the confederacy} and was a staunch abolitionist and both hid union soldiers that escaped the southern prisons, she also had a detailed cypher system {with her most trusted maid situated right in Jefferson Davis house and who just happened to have a photographic memory} that gave important information to the north and Grant when they desperately needed it. She was shunned almost her whole life and her end is one of the saddest of the story], and the more I read, the more admiration I had for them [though the two southern women/spies were rather ridiculous and their actions and way of life and expectations drove me crazy at times]. I do not think that I could have done what any of them accomplished, but then again, one never knows what one can do when one is placed in that situation, so I hope that I would be able to rise to the occasion, should I be put there. This is an excellent read and I highly recommend it. I will say a note about the narrator - I was able to reconcile with her voice [I have listened to A LOT worse and had she been worse, I would have had to quit the book, as I have in the past], but many might not be able to - I would suggest having a hard copy of this just in case. :-)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    I was completely entertained; best time I’ve had reading a history book! Abbott gives that extra hundred pages of personality that all of my Erik Larson reads have lacked. Frank Thompson/Emma Edmondson A Union soldier, nurse, and spy. There were as many as 400 women, on both sides, posing and fighting as men. Rose Greenhow DC socialite ran a Confederate spy ring in the Union capital and later became the first American woman to represent her country abroad. Elizabeth Van Lew Ran a Union spy ring i I was completely entertained; best time I’ve had reading a history book! Abbott gives that extra hundred pages of personality that all of my Erik Larson reads have lacked. Frank Thompson/Emma Edmondson A Union soldier, nurse, and spy. There were as many as 400 women, on both sides, posing and fighting as men. Rose Greenhow DC socialite ran a Confederate spy ring in the Union capital and later became the first American woman to represent her country abroad. Elizabeth Van Lew Ran a Union spy ring in the Confederate Capital and often hid escaped prisoners on their way north. Belle Boyd A brave drama loving southern belle who saw the war as her stage. She’d race across a battlefield, getting bullet holes in her hoop dress, to provide intelligence to the Confederacy... and to provide her dinner guest with sensational stories of her feminine courage! Best of the history genre: five stars!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Finished this 5 Star Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War in two marathon sessions. These women were just fascinating. Just great reading and very good history. I learned a lot about espionage in the Civil War. Emma's story was also excellent. Here is the definitive review by Mara and I can't improve on it: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Strongest recommendation! Finished this 5 Star Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War in two marathon sessions. These women were just fascinating. Just great reading and very good history. I learned a lot about espionage in the Civil War. Emma's story was also excellent. Here is the definitive review by Mara and I can't improve on it: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Strongest recommendation!

  17. 4 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    Audiobook #214 I've read the paper version, but wanted to read it again. This book presents various profiles of women both North and South and how they survived during the Civil War. I find it really interesting, but honestly I find anything women do from a source of strength to be honored. Audiobook #214 I've read the paper version, but wanted to read it again. This book presents various profiles of women both North and South and how they survived during the Civil War. I find it really interesting, but honestly I find anything women do from a source of strength to be honored.

  18. 5 out of 5

    QNPoohBear

    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 slav 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.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I've lived the north and south of the Civil War aftermath: born and raised in the DC area, moved to a border state (home of the Dred-Scott decision for most of my adolescence, and then settled here in the South for the past 40 or so years. There are many aspects, besides the politics of the war, that I find fascinating. The fierce loyalty some folks have for their homeland, for instance, or the burning desire to fight for their personal beliefs. To me, fighting means taking an intellectual stand I've lived the north and south of the Civil War aftermath: born and raised in the DC area, moved to a border state (home of the Dred-Scott decision for most of my adolescence, and then settled here in the South for the past 40 or so years. There are many aspects, besides the politics of the war, that I find fascinating. The fierce loyalty some folks have for their homeland, for instance, or the burning desire to fight for their personal beliefs. To me, fighting means taking an intellectual stand, not the physical personal risks the four women in Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy did. The women, each fully dedicated to their cause, are skillfully depicted by Karen Abbott. I heard her talk about the book on NPR, and the interview fascinated me so much, I immediately sought out the book. The four women are very different in personality and approach to how they helped. Belle Boyd was flamboyant, rambunctious, daring in an overt way, very much an extroverted young woman. I found myself wondering what labels a psychiatrist would slap on her were she to end up on a couch today. I suppose as a kid I sometimes fantasized about passing as a boy so that I could have a more rough and tumble life (I grew up in the late 50's), but I am not sure I would have tried to pass as a male and join the Union army, as Emma Edmonds did. It's interesting, also to note, that there are several books out of late about women disguised as men and fighting in the Civil War. Edmonds experience was spurred not by the desire to be next to her sweetheart, unlike most of these women on other books, but to escape a bad home life and put distance between her present and past. Rose O’Neale Greenhow was the only one of the four women I really knew anything about beforehand, some of which I "knew" being incorrect. A clever and cunning spy, she was able to pass messages and information even when under house arrest by the Yankees. Elizabeth Van Lew, who lived in Richmond, was shunned as an abolitionist, while getting valuable information to the North, and aiding the escape of many Union prisoners and Southern slaves. Oddly, though, the two people I want to read more about are not these four women, but "Little Rose", the youngest daughter of Greenhow, and Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a freed slave that Van Lew helped place in the southern white house as part of her spy ring. Bowser was both educated and possessed of a photographic memory, thus was able to gain access and recall intimate details of the strategy and plans discussed by Jefferson Davis and his officers. A long, but interesting read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This is a very readable book about four women during the American Civil War. Abbott choses two women from the Union and two from the Confedracy. Why these four is somewhat unclear - perhaps the least well known is Elizabeth van Lew or Emma Edmonds. Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow are more well known. And I think that is the what stops this book from being a five star. It is unclear why these four women - is it to bring little known stories to the fore, okay but Belle Boyd is not obscure (and if you This is a very readable book about four women during the American Civil War. Abbott choses two women from the Union and two from the Confedracy. Why these four is somewhat unclear - perhaps the least well known is Elizabeth van Lew or Emma Edmonds. Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow are more well known. And I think that is the what stops this book from being a five star. It is unclear why these four women - is it to bring little known stories to the fore, okay but Belle Boyd is not obscure (and if you have been to the Spy Museum then you know Greenhow). There is also the question of when a story might be BS. I am not saying that Abbott is making anything up - she isn't and everything is endnoted. But some of Belle Boyd's stories are not entirely verifable, and at times, it appears that Abbott takes her word as fact, something that is disproved when you look at the endnote. This stands out because Abbott is a little more in text doubting of Emma Edmonds (there is a debate about how accurate Edmonds's tale is), and one wonders why it is that Boyd seems to get more belief (at least until you look at the endnotes). Additionally, there is little about the women's lives prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. For instance, I am currently reading Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation which also includes a chapter that deals with Emma Edmonds. In that chapter, the author notes that the man Edmonds meets again in the US was also the man who helped her flee her father. This is something that Abbott does not note in the body of her text. Abbott also does not note in her text what happened to Mary Jane, Elizabeth Van Lew's servant. MJ was a black woman who worked as spy. She spied on Jefferson Davis. It is possible that the historical record does not give us this infromation, but that should be noted in the text and not a footnote. Still, this is a very enjoyable read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    JenniferD

    this was a terrific read. it's very clear abbott has done tremendous research in creating this book, and the biographies and history are presented well in a very engaging style. over the past year, i have been hearing more about women serving in the civil war, whether they went incognito, disguising themselves as men, or functioned as supporters and spies - there may be a mini-movement in publishing to get these stories some attention. novels like I Shall Be Near to You and Neverhome would be gre this was a terrific read. it's very clear abbott has done tremendous research in creating this book, and the biographies and history are presented well in a very engaging style. over the past year, i have been hearing more about women serving in the civil war, whether they went incognito, disguising themselves as men, or functioned as supporters and spies - there may be a mini-movement in publishing to get these stories some attention. novels like I Shall Be Near to You and Neverhome would be great companion reads with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. (which i suggest only because a) they are also quite recent, and b) i enjoy 'paired reads' - a fiction work with a nonfiction - so maybe you will too.) as i was reading abbott's book, i found myself most drawn to emma's and elizabeth's stories. i found i had more empathy for them, over belle and rose. (not for where their sympathies lay, but just in how their personalities were presented and in the way they conducted themselves.) but, overall, all 4 women are fascinating subjects and could easily carry their own books.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Erin Lindsay McCabe

    This book about 4 female Civil War spies was a must-read for me and was everything I'd hoped-- the final line of the epilogue leaving me with goosebumps (I'm not even kidding). I already knew about each of these women-- had even read parts of Rebel Rose's and all of Sarah Emma Edmonds' memoirs-- but I feel like I learned SO MUCH about them and the lengths that they and many others went through in pursuit of their ideals. Abbott gives a thorough, compelling, suspenseful account of each woman's li This book about 4 female Civil War spies was a must-read for me and was everything I'd hoped-- the final line of the epilogue leaving me with goosebumps (I'm not even kidding). I already knew about each of these women-- had even read parts of Rebel Rose's and all of Sarah Emma Edmonds' memoirs-- but I feel like I learned SO MUCH about them and the lengths that they and many others went through in pursuit of their ideals. Abbott gives a thorough, compelling, suspenseful account of each woman's life during the war years, portraying them each with sensitivity and careful detail, giving voice to their beliefs and allowing the reader to come to her own conclusion about each woman (my conclusion: I'd like to hang out with Sara Emma Edmonds and be a fly on the wall near the rest, just to watch them in action). I am so impressed with the amount of research that went into this book and the seamless way Abbott combines direct quotes with novelistic description, often managing to end chapters on cliffhangers. My one criticism, which is owing to my preference for reading fiction and that I mostly read in fits and starts these days, is that I had a hard time keeping track of the many minor personages who dot the pages. I don't see how this could be avoided in a work of non-fiction, however. I hope this book will help these ladies (and others!) take their rightful place in history-- they're a fascinating lot!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julianne (Outlandish Lit)

    As someone who's super scared of nonfiction and who hates reading about wars, I was nervous about this book. But when I heard that Karen Abbott was coming to town, I decided it was time to give this book a chance. Everybody who has read it loved it and the subject matter certainly sounded interesting. Badass women undercover?? Sign me up. I've just always had trouble with history, for whatever reason. Abbott makes Civil War history so interesting and accessible, without dumbing it down. All of t As someone who's super scared of nonfiction and who hates reading about wars, I was nervous about this book. But when I heard that Karen Abbott was coming to town, I decided it was time to give this book a chance. Everybody who has read it loved it and the subject matter certainly sounded interesting. Badass women undercover?? Sign me up. I've just always had trouble with history, for whatever reason. Abbott makes Civil War history so interesting and accessible, without dumbing it down. All of the women included were incredible in what they were willing to do either for their sides of the war. Something I really liked was how Abbott doesn't present those who fought on the Confederate side of things like villains. She just presented the facts and the personalities; what the women did without judgement. No side was glorified, every woman flawed and incredible in their own way. Also, when I saw Abbott speak she described one of the women, Belle Boyd, as a mixture of Sarah Palin and Miley Cyrus, which is SO ACCURATE. If that doesn't make you want to know more about these women, I don't know what will. Full review: Outlandish Lit - 3 Books About People Who Aren't What They Seem

  24. 4 out of 5

    drea

    This is the kind of NF I always love, yet struggle to find. Immersive and rich in the smaller historical details that may not ultimately affect the record but that brings its characters--and humanity--to life. (HOT TIP: If you are female attempting to pose as a male soldier, don't try to put pants on over your head. Immediate giveaway.) I chose this for my book club's non-fiction round largely because of the Washington Post's odd review (below), but worried that the content itself might not lend This is the kind of NF I always love, yet struggle to find. Immersive and rich in the smaller historical details that may not ultimately affect the record but that brings its characters--and humanity--to life. (HOT TIP: If you are female attempting to pose as a male soldier, don't try to put pants on over your head. Immediate giveaway.) I chose this for my book club's non-fiction round largely because of the Washington Post's odd review (below), but worried that the content itself might not lend itself to great discussion beyond the question of whether anyone agreed with me that George McClellan was both a.) kind of foxy and b.) kind of the worst. (We never hear anything from his wife; I hope she just rolled her eyes at his letters about his own wonderfulness and then threw them in the fire). But I was wrong, and happy to be so. Lots of interesting things about what the historical record allows and limits, and what biases might be caused because of what has survived. Original review: Now I want to read this more: Washington Post Dismisses 500-page Civil War NF as 'girly'

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins. In this work of non-fiction, Abbott tells the story of four women who served as spies during the Civil War. Belle Boyd was a teenager when work broke out, and a hotheaded one at that. Belle became a spy for the Confederacy, seducing men to get them to tell all. Emma Edmonds ran away from home to avoid a forced marriage. To survive, she dressed as a man and joined the Union army, where she was eventually recruited to serve as a I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins. In this work of non-fiction, Abbott tells the story of four women who served as spies during the Civil War. Belle Boyd was a teenager when work broke out, and a hotheaded one at that. Belle became a spy for the Confederacy, seducing men to get them to tell all. Emma Edmonds ran away from home to avoid a forced marriage. To survive, she dressed as a man and joined the Union army, where she was eventually recruited to serve as an undercover spy. Rose O'Neale Greenhow was a widow who seduced Unionists to gain intelligence for the Confederacy. She and her young daughter were imprisoned for their crimes against the United States. And finally, Elizabeth Van Lew, a well-to-do Richmond spinster with Union loyalties, served as bath a Union spy and a safe house for Union soldiers escaping from the Southern prison. This account was fascinating, but that's largely because Abbott has cherry picked four of the most fascinating stories from the Civil War to include. These women did not know one another and never met, yet Abbott has done an excellent job of weaving the four disparate stories together into one chronological tale. However, at times I had a difficult time to keep the four women separate in my mind, and to even remember for which side which woman was spying. I couldn't help but have my favorites among the four women portrayed. Emma Edmonds fascinated me because she successfully pulled off serving as a female in a male army. Emma was one of around four hundred women who posed and fought as men during the Civil War. Perhaps even more impressive, once recruited to be a sspy Emma posed as a man posing as at times as a black man, and at times as a woman in order to infiltrate into the Southern army - which surely must have been confusing. Yet she was never caught and exposed as a woman. Many years later after the end of the war, she did reveal her gender to her fellow soldiers. Additionally, I developed great respect for Elizabeth Van Lew, who was much hated in Richmond for her abolitionist beliefs, yet stood firm by them. Elizabeth managed to install her black servant Mary Jane in the Confederate president's house. Little did President Davis know that Mary Jane was "highly educated and gifted with an eidetic memory, capable of memorizing images in a glance, and recalling entire conversations word for word" (83). Additionally, Elizabeth successfully hid escaped Unionists in a secret room in her house, even when Southern army officers were staying with her. She was adept at aiding the Union army, and did so at considerable personal expense. All four women in this book were willing to risk their life for their beliefs. All four sacrificed in numerous ways, including in bodily comfort, health, finances, and safety. Abbott has done an excellent job of locating four fascinating stories of women involved in the Civil War and compiling them in an easy to read and well researched narrative.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I enjoyed this book as it provided another aspect of the Civil War that one rarely hears about. Abbott provides an alternate view of the Civil War by featuring previously untold stories of the impact women and civilians had on the war effort. She brings these individuals fully to life with passion for their causes. The subjects of Karen Abbott’s engrossing book are four women who worked undercover in the Civil War. Belle Boyd and Rose O’Neal Greenhow worked for the confederacy and Elizabeth Van I enjoyed this book as it provided another aspect of the Civil War that one rarely hears about. Abbott provides an alternate view of the Civil War by featuring previously untold stories of the impact women and civilians had on the war effort. She brings these individuals fully to life with passion for their causes. The subjects of Karen Abbott’s engrossing book are four women who worked undercover in the Civil War. Belle Boyd and Rose O’Neal Greenhow worked for the confederacy and Elizabeth Van Lew and Emma Edmondson worked for the Union. Boyd was 17 years old in 1861, known as “The Secesh Cleopatra” and La Bella Rebelle” she flirted and spied never making pronounced efforts to conceal her espionage activities. Emma Edmondson born in 1841 from Flint Michigan, by way of Canada, worked as a nurse and also infiltrated enemy terrain to gather intelligence. She masqueraded herself in various disguises to do this. She even disguised herself as a man and fought with the 2nd Michigan Infantry. Greenhow ran a spy ring out of Washington D.C. she also learned cipher and Morse code. In 2012 I read “Wild Rose” by Ann Blackman which gave an in-depth history of Greenhow’s life. Elizabeth Van Lew was of Richmond society. Her father was a prominent businessman and slave owner. She was one of Richmond’s wealthiest citizens. She had been educated in Philadelphia by an abolitionist governess. She ran a spy ring, learned to cipher and Morse code. Van Lew’s most impressive agent was Mary Jane Bower, her black servant. Abbott did meticulous research for the book and it is smoothly written and structured (chronologically) so as a certain amount of suspense is built in. The author’s research included letters, diaries and news accounts of the time. Abbott claims that as many as four hundred women both North and South were posing and fighting as men. The author also stated women were capable not only of significant acts of treason, but of executing them more deftly than men. Karen Abbott is a well known history author and a graduate of Villanova University. If you enjoy history and true stories of adventure and courage you will find this is just the book for you. I read this as an audio book. If the “whispersync” was available I could have taken advantage of the photographs in the book. Karen White did a good job narrating the book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    El

    About five years ago I read They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. It was a fine book, but on the dry end. What was exciting to me was the discussion of women in a position that was filled primarily by men, and the education most of us receive in schools about the American Civil War keep women out of the lectures pretty much entirely, except when talking about women in a feminine role during the war (nurses, teachers, prostitutes, mothers, sisters, wives, etc. etc.). The realit About five years ago I read They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. It was a fine book, but on the dry end. What was exciting to me was the discussion of women in a position that was filled primarily by men, and the education most of us receive in schools about the American Civil War keep women out of the lectures pretty much entirely, except when talking about women in a feminine role during the war (nurses, teachers, prostitutes, mothers, sisters, wives, etc. etc.). The reality is that women did play a sometimes very important role. In They Fought Like Demons we learned that some women went to great lengths to fight alongside men on the fields. In Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Abbott focuses on four different women (two who supported the Confederates, two who supported the Union) and discussed their undercover roles in the war. Each woman had a reason for their actions, and whether or not the reader agrees with every single one of them, the fact is that to these women (just like the men who signed up to fight) felt what they were doing was important for the greater good. It was impressive reading about what some of these women went through and what they further put themselves through to do their part, to prove their point, to do what they felt was right and good. I was impressed by Abbott's attention to detail. She did a shitload of research for this book, and I honestly felt it could have been longer. Just flipping through the extensive notes at the end of the book made me realize just how much information Abbott went through to write this book. I read this as part of a group, and someone mentioned they were concerned that there was a bit too much fictionalization happening. I hadn't thought about it at first until it was brought up, but after that I couldn't stop thinking about it. Abbott does mention in the introduction that this is attributed to what she was able to pull from primary sources and family stories, etc., and that was enough for me initially. But as someone else pointed out, it's hard to know for sure the veracity of the primary sources - I believe each of the women kept detailed journals about their experiences, but it's possible that some of them wrote an exaggerated version of their lives in order to make money later, or whatever. So that's something to keep in mind. However, the readability of the book, and the amount of information Abbott provided, was enough to keep me fascinated throughout. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the American Civil War, especially for those (like myself) who are especially intrigued by women's roles.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    This is the story of four different women and their contributions during the Civil War. This was a four star rating because, while the information and story was intriguing, it was confusing going back and forth between the stories and trying to figure out who's on what side. All four women qualified as Liars and Spies, but my favorite was Emma, who wore a Union uniform and fought in battle in addition to delivering the mail. I liked that Emma and Elizabeth spent their time nursing soldiers back This is the story of four different women and their contributions during the Civil War. This was a four star rating because, while the information and story was intriguing, it was confusing going back and forth between the stories and trying to figure out who's on what side. All four women qualified as Liars and Spies, but my favorite was Emma, who wore a Union uniform and fought in battle in addition to delivering the mail. I liked that Emma and Elizabeth spent their time nursing soldiers back to health. I was not quite as impressed with Belle and Rose using their womanly wiles to confuse the soldiers and obtain information and favors. I liked Rose the least because she put her ambitions and activism above the health of her daughter, who starved alongside her in prison. Rose was also an unapologetic racist. *fume* Belle was kind of interesting because she acted very much like Scarlet O'Hara, flirting with the other soldiers and worshipping the generals like a groupie. She was having so much fun flirting with the soldiers in prison that you'd think she was on The Bachelor or something! I think that a very interesting movie could be made about Belle, and for some reason, I pictured her as Anna Kendrick throughout the book, even though the real Belle was not very attractive.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    I found this to be a highly readable and eye-opening account of the unsung role of four women "spies" in the Civil War. The narrative alternates between Emma and Elizabeth (both Union supporters), and Belle and Rose (Rebel sympathizers), and follows a chronological trajectory through the war and beyond. I recently read one of Karen Abbott's other books, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul which was teeming with interesting historical characters, I found this to be a highly readable and eye-opening account of the unsung role of four women "spies" in the Civil War. The narrative alternates between Emma and Elizabeth (both Union supporters), and Belle and Rose (Rebel sympathizers), and follows a chronological trajectory through the war and beyond. I recently read one of Karen Abbott's other books, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul which was teeming with interesting historical characters, but I found LTSS held together better overall. The author's tendency to extrapolate colorful, emotive, "fictional" scenes and dialogue out of primary sources (common in pop-history books) did grate on me at times. I would have liked a disclaimer or two about the veracity of the primary sources--some of memoir-based scenes, like Emma's visit home disguised as "Frank", struck me contrived--but I still appreciated the sentiment behind whatever inspired Emma herself to record such a scene to begin with. As an audiobook this felt a tad long, and the narrator's stilted tone was just this side of bearable. I also missed out on the footnotes, so this would probably be better in print.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Camie

    I found this book somewhat confusing. I guess I should have brushed up on my American Civil War knowledge , before reading this nonfiction account of four women , two from each side who are the Liar, Temptress, Soldier, and Spy. Actually most of these ladies fit more than one description. For the Union side , we had Emma Edwards, my favorite of the bunch, who disguised as a man actually joined the troops, also Elizabeth Van Lew, who used her wealth , and the help of her former slave Mary Jane Bo I found this book somewhat confusing. I guess I should have brushed up on my American Civil War knowledge , before reading this nonfiction account of four women , two from each side who are the Liar, Temptress, Soldier, and Spy. Actually most of these ladies fit more than one description. For the Union side , we had Emma Edwards, my favorite of the bunch, who disguised as a man actually joined the troops, also Elizabeth Van Lew, who used her wealth , and the help of her former slave Mary Jane Bowser to help escaped prisoners and keep General Grant informed. On the Confederate side we had Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a beautiful widow with a young daughter who was a spy in Washington DC and Belle Boyd, my least favorite, who I guess was the Temptress , as she was a young lady who used bold flirtation to gain messages and pass them along. It was hard to keep track of what was actually going on in the war while following the adventures of all four of these women . Like I said, I should have studied up, I would have enjoyed this more ! 3 stars

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