samedi 29 novembre 2014

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

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.

I love reading about American history, as shown by my current project to read a biography of each American President. While I am interested in the Civil War era, I have very little interest in military history that describes in detail battles and the movement of armies, so it is difficult to find a book set in that era that catches my attention. When I saw this book, promising an original look at the era, through the eyes of four uncommon women, I jumped on it immediately. 

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy works well, interweaving four different storylines in an exciting and attention grabbing way, keeping the story moving through the years of the war. Of the four women, two support the Union and two support the Confederacy, allowing Abbott to carefully explore the effects of the war on both sides. Providing a feminine perspective and showing how vital they were to the war effort is a fine way of giving a new spin to this well known period of history, one that Abbott pulls off with aplomb. Although at times the writing became a little dry, especially when Abbott deals with the dreaded battles, overall the book keeps the attention all the way through to the - sometimes tragic - end. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in this era and looking for an original spin on it.

I gave Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy 4 stars.

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