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Stealing Athena

3.51  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,029 Ratings  ·  165 Reviews

The author of the bestselling Leonardo’s Swans traverses the centuries into the hearts of two extraordinary women to reveal the passions, ambitions, and controversies surrounding the Elgin Marbles.

The Elgin Marbles have been displayed in the British Museum for nearly two hundred years, and for just as long they have been the center of a raging controversy. In Stealing Athe

Hardcover, 452 pages
Published June 17th 2008 by Doubleday (first published 2008)
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Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy ChevalierThe Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa GregoryI, Claudius by Robert GravesInnocent Traitor by Alison WeirThe Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
Biographical Fiction
66th out of 428 books — 223 voters
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy ChevalierThe Birth of Venus by Sarah DunantGirl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan VreelandThe Passion of Artemisia by Susan VreelandLeonardo's Swans by Karen Essex
Art History Fiction
10th out of 30 books — 22 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,550)
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Sep 04, 2008 Carey rated it really liked it
If you have been to the British Museum in London you could not have missed the Elgin Marbles, those lovely white carvings taken from the Parthenon in Athens. What you might not have done is imagined the arduous task it was to move them there. In this historical novel Karen Essex has painted the picture for us of the personal lives of the people involved.

In 1799 Lord Elgin was appointed ambassador to Constantinople. He was a newlywed and took his wife, Mary, with him to his post. He was glad to
Apr 18, 2008 Lauren rated it liked it
I stopped worrying about historical accuracy or purple prose writing @ p.100 and gave myself over to the book which was just good, old-fashioned fun. Spoiler: Lord Elgin was a shit.
Dec 17, 2008 Alan rated it it was ok
This novel is the latest entry in the genre that proclaims that behind every mediocre man in history was an equally mediocre woman. Here we have the story of Lord Elgin, chiefly remembered for removing the ancient marble sculptures and friezes that decorated the Parthenon in Athens and transporting them to the British Museum where they remain today. The Greeks are still trying to get them back. This book examines Elgin's story from the point of view of Mary, his feisty Scottish wife.
We also get
"Ah, the Caryatids. My masterpieces. Are they not lovely? For me, they represent the burden of women, who must carry blame for so many things of which they are innocent."
(quote from Pheidos from the novel)

Main characters Mary and Aspasia are definitely such women. That's all I will say to refrain from spoilers.

I loved this book mainly because it was like no historical novel I read before. I had not yet read anything that took place in Greece or Turkey at any time, nor had I read anything at all
Ben Babcock
The first half of the book was a little erotic for my tastes, but it's fine if you like that sort of thing. It just seemed like a page didn't go by without mentioning sex or arousal or issuing some sort of innuendo. This calmed down toward the end of the book, by which time I actually found myself empathizing with Mary quite a bit

The book appealed to my dormant desire to learn more about the Elgin marbles. Essex writes with confidence and an intimate tone that makes the period and the characters
Lorri Coburn
Jun 11, 2009 Lorri Coburn rated it really liked it
Stealing Athena parallels the lives of 18th Century Mary Nisbett Elgin, wife of British ambassador to Turkey, and Aspasia, concubine of Pericles, ruler of Athens at the time of the building of the Parthenon. These were women ahead of their time, outspoken and influential in periods in which women had few rights. While these women were more privileged than the average woman, they still suffered from legal constraints placed on women, with some very serious and unfair consequences.

Lord Elgin was
Nov 23, 2008 A. rated it really liked it
I did not like anyone in this book, but it was a great read.
Jun 20, 2011 Janellyn51 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, and again I say, I simply cannot get over how it is possible that women had so few, let's say NO rights, to thier own property once they were married. I just finished a book called Murder at the Priory, which again illustrated that in England, once you married what was yours, became the property of your husband, and they took well advantage of that situation. In Stealing Athena, the depth to which Mary Nesbit got taken by her husband, Lord Elgin, it just makes my bloo ...more
Aug 15, 2008 Carrie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
Stealing Athena by Karen Essex tells the story of two historical women, two women whose names I had never heard before picking up this book, but whose stories are fascinating.

Mary Nesbit convinces her father to allow her to marry Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, because she desires to marry for love. Her father is not convinced of his worthiness - especially financially - but agrees to the match. Very shortly after marrying, Lord Elgin is named the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, a
Aug 01, 2011 Nancy added it
Historic fiction two powerful women, Lady Mary Elgin who is married to a diplomate and Aspasia who lives in the time of Perikles. Both women involved in the mystery and the controversy that is the Elgin Marbles. Mary's husband is supposedly "saving" antiquities of Greece from the Acropolis and the Parthenon. However he has bankrupted himself and is focused on spending Mary's money too. Divorces and scandal follow. Aspasia is woman who is a thinker and is much more powerful than any woman of her ...more
Feb 27, 2009 Teddy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Historical Fiction Lovers
Shelves: read-in-2009
Stealing Athena is about two influential and custom defying women in history. Both caught between the conventions of their time and trying to help the men they loved.

At 21, newlywed, Mary, the countess of Elgin used her charm and influence with the Ottoman Empire to gain permission for her husband Elgin to deconstruct what was left of the Greek Parthenon and bring it's amazing sculptures back to England, during the Napoleonic wars.

Two millennia earlier, Aspasia, courtesan to Perikles and philoso
Jun 10, 2014 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairly decent historical fiction, especially if you are interested in art. While I was not particularly impressed with the details or style, nor was the story itself overly memorable, it was a pleasant enough way to spend a few evenings before retiring.
Oct 31, 2012 Kaydon_the_dino rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction

It was an enjoyable story but I was ultimately displeased by it in a few ways. We don't hear any of Aspasia's story until we are already a third of the way through Mary's, and even then maybe four chapters of the entire book are hers. Secondly, the first part of the book is rather slow, meandering it's way around the Turkish court, then it picks up and races through to the end. The ending feels extremely hurried and rushed. Mary's story is told in the third person, while Aspasia's is in the fir
Stealing Athena did not hold my interest; I stopped listening to the audiobook.
Mar 04, 2014 Bonnie rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sara W
Fiction book about the Elgin Marbles taken from Greece. Flips between the Elgins' story in the 1800s and Perikles and Asapia (forgive the spelling of the Greek names, I don't have my book on me) in Ancient Greece. The author's note at the end was really thorough and helpful on where to find additional sources which I appreciated.
Oct 31, 2008 Susan rated it really liked it
I thought I would have a hard time bouncing back and forth between the two main characters (and their corresponding time periods) - not so. The plots are interestingly interwoven, and the writing, while at times a bit thick and awkward, was generally very pleasing.
One of the better historical fiction novels I've read in some time.
Virginia Van
Apr 13, 2016 Virginia Van rated it really liked it
Mary Nisbet was a wealthy heiress when she married the handsome and dashing Earl of Elgin, British ambassador to Constantinople. There, Mary uses her charm and funds to enchant the rulers of the Ottoman Empire to forward her husbands plan to remove the sculptures from the Parthenon and take them to England. As Elgin becomes increasingly obsessed with his scheme, Mary begins to wonder whether his love was for her or for her money. The novel also tells the parallel story of Aspasia, a female philo ...more
Brenda DiVincenzo
Aug 27, 2008 Brenda DiVincenzo rated it liked it
Having studied Greek mythology and art history in college I thought I knew about the Parthenon. I am glad to learn new things but this book lacked something and I am not sure what. At times it seemed contrived but at others it flowed well.
Lindsey Cook
Jul 26, 2012 Lindsey Cook rated it liked it
Overall a good book, however the beginning could use alot of work. It is very slow getting into, that i felt giving up a few times. The story is very interesting, and while maybe not 100% historically accurate is very close.
Nov 09, 2012 Erica rated it liked it
Very boring. I love the idea of structuring a novel to highlight the parallels in the lives of two women separated by two thousand years, but Essex apparently does not have the skills to white such a novel.
Feb 19, 2013 Janine rated it liked it
Interesting, and lots of research done, but the telling is less than graceful. The first chapters set in ancient Athens are cumbersome.
Jan 12, 2013 Joan rated it liked it
In the beginning, I wanted to shake Lady Elgin, but then, she changed. I still can't believe she gave up her children. Good read.
Shannon Dunn
Dec 07, 2011 Shannon Dunn rated it liked it
The front story was a little too factual - event after event after event. I began to wish for more of the story within the story.
Feb 08, 2013 Betsy rated it really liked it
This story broke my mama heart, but it was certainly true to the period it describes. Overall, a good, solid read.
Li Wu
Nov 24, 2012 Li Wu rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub
This was a slow read for me, but it's interesting. Makes me appreciate even more of all the freedom we have now!!
Jan 28, 2013 Rose rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A surprising lack of real conflict until the last 150 pages. THOSE pages were good.
Sharon Miller
Apr 12, 2016 Sharon Miller rated it it was ok
I just am not the right audience for the author's style. This is the second book I have read of hers. She chooses subjects I am interested in. I enjoyed the subject matter and the historical settings, but the characterizations of the cast were insipid. I knew Lord Elgin wasn't an admirable character, but I didn't know he was that bad. Wow. The heroines put up with such insufferable nonsense, which may well be a true portrait, so my complaints are those of a fussy idealist, but I like my fiction ...more
A good book for people who like the historical fiction a little heavy on the history - which I do. Essex does an excellent job of telling the story of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, wife of the man who dismantled a good bit of what remained on the Parthenon in Athens and carted what are still known as the Elgin marbles home to England. It is a fascinating story that also deals with the place of women in both early 19th century England as well as the 5th century BCE, interweaving the story of As ...more
Vicki Cline
Feb 18, 2014 Vicki Cline rated it really liked it
This tells the stories of two women involved with the Elgin Marbles, originally part of the Parthenon in Athens but currently on display at the British Museum. One story is about Mary Nisbet, the wife of Lord Elgin, who was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during Napoleon's time, and obtained permission from the Turkish government to remove the carvings from Greece. The second one is about Aspasia, the companion of Pericles, the leader of Athens during the fifth century BC, who got the Parthenon ...more
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I'm the author of KLEOPATRA, PHARAOH, LEONARDO'S SWANS, STEALING ATHENA, DRACULA IN LOVE, AND BETTIE PAGE: LIFE OF A PINUP LEGEND--All featuring iconic women. I am also an active screenwriter and an award-winning journalist. I divide my time between Los Angeles and Europe, where I soak in the atmosphere while writing historical fiction.

Please see my blog, "Women, History, Sex, & Power" at htt
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“Lovers of words have no place where honest work must be done.” 8 likes
“it is a quote from Mihri Hatun, a lady poet who wrote many centuries ago. 'A talented women is better than a thousand untalented men, and a women of understanding is better than a thousand stupid men.” 2 likes
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