Book Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

19 08 2014

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Title:  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Author: Karen Abbott

Publisher:  Harper

Genre:  History

Available:  September 2, 2014

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advanced readers copy of this book.  I especially enjoy the opportunity to read and review new Civil War offerings!

Karen Abbott follows four significant women (two from the North and two from the South) and their contributions to the conflict through the course of the war.  The Southern bells – Rose Greenhow and Belle Boyd – are very recognized in Civil War history, both having served as spies and lived rather open and flamboyant lives.  Elizabeth Van Lew, a Northern sympathizer living in Richmond, is also very well celebrated – I even saw a photo of her on a billboard for 150th CW celebrations during a recent visit to the former Confederate capitol.  She aided the Union cause in a number of ways, passing messages, helping prisoners escaped, planting spies.  And finally Emma Edmondson, who reinvented herself as a soldier in the 2nd Michigan, Frank Thompson.  Thompson spent two years in the Union army, soldiering, nursing, and even making recon behind enemy lines.

Abbott chronicles the war loosely, linking the women together through the action.  The book itself is more about their activities, with enough background material on the conflict to give value and context to the things going on around them.  It is written with a more novelesque style, the author taking liberties with how the characters may have felt or explaining the details of a scene in a way that could not have been documented.  It does make for a faster read and a more entertaining story, but less scholarly in ways.

The book apparently has a full slate of notations, references and photos, but the advanced readers copy did not have access to complete showing of them.

I think this would make a great read for someone interested in starting a study of women’s roles during the Civil War, but not necessarily military actions.

Note:  I was provided a copy by the publisher.  All opinions expressed are my own.