Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
New York Times bestselling author Karen Abbott tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything during the Civil War.
Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 8, 2015)
Genre: Nonfiction, historical
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours for an honest review
Seventeen-year-old Belle Boyd, an avowed rebel with a dangerous temper, shot a Union soldier in her home and became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her considerable charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union private named Frank Thompson, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the war and infiltrating enemy lines. The beautiful widow Rose O'Neal Greenhow engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians 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—even placing a former slave inside the Confederate White House—right under the noses of increasingly suspicious rebel detectives.
With a cast of real-life characters, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, Detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoléon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy shines a dramatic new light on these daring—and, until now, unsung—heroines.
Book clubs will be happy to know there's a reader's guide. Also, learn more about the characters in the book at Experience the Past.
"Gripping... Meticulously researched and fluidly written, this book draws the reader in and doesn't let go until the four heroines draw their final breaths... a remarkable story of passion, strength, and resilience." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
"Riveting... a highly entertaining narrative with the pace and tone of a novel... this fresh perspective on what is perhaps a familiar story will cause readers to ponder the fine line between traitors and patriots." (Library Journal, best book of 2014)
"Abbott makes it look easy, weaving together four women's stories—from a society woman who used her position to steal and share secrets, to a cross-dressing soldier in the war—in order to write a history of the Civil War through the eyes of women who did extraordinary things... wildly entertaining, with a page-turner narrative." (Flavorwire, best book of 2014)
"George Smiley's got nothing on the abolitionist spinster, widowed seductress, cross-dressing soldier and murderous teenager featured in this true tale of espionage." (O, the Oprah magazine, top ten book for fall 2014)
“Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is the kind of page-turning book you can get so absorbed in that you keep forgetting it’s nonfiction.” (Bustle.com)
I have always been interested in the Civil War and have read several historical novels and some nonfiction on the topic. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a rather unique and extremely interesting historical nonfiction book about four independent, driven and dedicated women who played important roles on both sides of the conflict.
I really like that the book progresses through time and interweaves the different women's stories as they progress. The reader is able to follow the war and the roles the women played and how they interacted with important historical figures.
While I sympathized and related more to Emma Edmonds and Elizabeth Van Lew more than Belle Boyd and Rose O'Neal Greenhow, I was still very much interested in all the women's stories. I have read brief pieces about women who dressed as men and fought in the war, but hadn't read such an in depth history of such a woman until I read about Emma. Belle's story was probably the most concerning because she seemed to be the most unstable of the women. Each followed her belief that the path she chose was right for her. I have to admire that - whether I agree with their beliefs and actions or not.
I enjoyed the way the author included quotes from diaries and correspondence as well as news accounts within the narrative. This really helped to set the mood and tone for the time.
I think that Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy would make a great selection for a book club and I am seriously thinking of adding it to our homeschool curriculum for American History. While Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is nonfiction, it reads almost as fiction - fast paced, riveting, exciting and very enjoyable to read. This is one of those books that I will definitely be recommending to friends and history fans. I would also consider it a great selection for women's studies.