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A Short History of Women

3.09  ·  Rating Details ·  2,527 Ratings  ·  542 Reviews
The novel opens in England in 1915, at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragist and one of the first women to integrate Cambridge University. Her decision to starve herself for the cause informs and echoes in the later, overlapping narratives of her descendants. Among them are her daughter Evie, who becomes a professor of chemistry at Barnard College in the middle of ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 16th 2009 by Scribner (first published May 31st 2009)
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Karen Daubert
Sep 26, 2009 Karen Daubert rated it it was ok

Motivated to read A Short History of Women by a glowing review in the New York Times, I wanted to love it. What a treasure it would be to have a book that provided through brilliant character portrayal a bridge from Virginia Woolf's London to the subsequent waves of feminist thought and experience in the U.S.A.

Reading, I felt unsatisfied, and by the end I wondered at the reviewer's taste. The book's clever structure dominates rather than supports the story. The writer's presence thus becomes unw

Dec 05, 2009 Grace rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, read-in-2009
Kate Walbert's 'A Short History of Women: A Novel' is proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. My journey through this short novel (topping out at under 250 pages) was a slow decline into the depths of hell.

The premise is simple - this is the story of five generations of women struggling to find out who they are and what their places are in the world. The story begins with the oldest, Dorothy Trevor Townsend, who starves herself to death for women's suffrage in 1914, leaving be
Dec 31, 2009 David rated it it was ok
This book was handed me by my wife who had read a review in the NY Times. While it was well and very lyrically written, I could not really come to understand why the author had written it and what she had hoped we would gain through its reading. So I asked my wife and she said that she was not surprised I did not understand - I could not, she proposed, because I was not a woman and could not identify with a woman's life living in a male dominated society. Perhaps that is the case. I try to think ...more
Feb 27, 2010 Felice rated it really liked it
I recently purchased a copy of A Short History of Women at my library's winter book fair. Lucky me! What a stunning book. The author, Kate Walbert has written a masterpiece of powerful restraint. When I finished the book I had the Reader's Holy Grail Moment. I was deeply satisfied, wanted to talk to a fellow reader about it immediately and knew that in my house of books I had nothing else to read because what could compare? That is a lovely moment.

This is 5 generations of women's lives all star
Apr 20, 2009 Jeff rated it really liked it
A Short History of Women is an eloquent and lovely novel that begins at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragette who starves herself and, ultimately, dies to further her cause. Kate Walbert’s novel is not simply about the repercussions of Dorothy’s death, though, but rather about how her actions echo, reverberate, and resound through the lives of her descendents.

Walbert’s novel moves fluidly from the time of Florence Nightingale, who screamed into the void to be heard, to the age of the
Mar 31, 2011 Kathrina rated it it was ok
Shelves: american-fiction
This was hugely underwhelming; a nice writing style, but an utterly forgettable narrative.
"A Short History of..." is a trend in titles over the last few years, perhaps borrowing from the popularity of Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, a book that pays back its promise of a layman's ruminations of pop science unconcerned with order or specialization, just a little (not to say "short," that's Bryson's misnomer) book of raw wonder. But there is no wonder here.
Conversely, it is short,
Feb 14, 2011 Johnny rated it did not like it
This is a seriously horrible book, just utterly boring and distracting. The pretentious central conceit, providing "a short history of women" through the fragmented stories of four generations of women all descended from the same woman, fails miserably in connecting with the audience in any significant or moving way. The narration jumps through a disjointed chronology spanning more than one hundred years and through the points of view of multiple characters with extremely similar names. The ...more
Barbara A
Mar 25, 2010 Barbara A rated it it was amazing
My faith in "best books" lists has been restored.

After being catatonically underwhelmed by "Let the Great World Spin", I have been deeply moved and deeply impressed by "A Short History of Women", . I have read Kate Walbert's two previous books, and this one, I believe, catapults her into the universe of excellence. I can understand why it was one of the Ten Best Books of 2009 as selected by the NYT.

Interleaving the lives of five generations of an English/American family, Walbert uses the fight
Mar 16, 2009 Jackie rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jackie by: Wendy at S&S
This new novel by renowned author Kate Walbert gives us glimpses into the lives of 5 related women over four generations. It begins in England in 1914 when Dorothy Townsend chooses to starve herself to death in the name of women's suffrage, leaving her two children orphaned. So begins the legacy of how this family's women deal with what was called in the 19th century "The Woman Question". Bouncing about in time to show various vignettes between the women and their families over the years, it's a ...more
Jan 05, 2011 Lucille rated it liked it
Every now and then, my library has displays based soley on a book's cover. Sometimes they have a large bookcase, where each shelf has covers of a specific colour to make the rainbow, starting at red and going all the way down to violet. On one day that I went in, the shelves alternated between red covers and white covers. Intrigued, I picked up the books with interesting titles and read the descriptions. This was one that stood out to me.
A Short History of Women chronicles the struggles of the
Caitlin Constantine
I give up. I'm halfway through and I just can't bring myself to care. I have to flip back and forth between the story and the family tree in the front of the book, which really disrupts my reading flow, and I am just really not caring all that much about any of the characters in the book, with the exception of maybe Charles (ironic considering the book's title and subject).

I'm really disappointed in this, because I liked the idea of a novel that tells the stories of several generations of women
Wish there were 3 and a half stars! I more than liked this but didn't love it. It's a misrepresentation to call this a novel (as the cover does)--it's actually a collection of linked stories. But there is much to admire in Walbert's prose, and I'm a fan of short stories in any case so I was happy to read all of them. I felt the most engaged in the character of Evelyn and ended up reading all of her stories first, then reading the others in between. The stories are in a confusing order and jump ...more
Feb 14, 2011 Dana rated it did not like it
I wanted to like it. I really, really did. But every time I found myself getting some momentum and actually caring about what happened to one of these women, her chapter ended! Major disappointment. I'd read a few pages and then realize I had NO idea what I'd just read, and not much motivation to go back and recap. The biggest problem was that, because I was never fully invested in the characters, I kept having to flip back to the "Lineage" page to keep track of which Dorothy was which. Not a ...more
Ruth Harper
Nov 12, 2012 Ruth Harper rated it it was amazing
I grabbed this paperback for a long flight (China), thinking that I could jettison it easily on the way home. A few pages in, I realized I would not want to get rid of the book and would make room for it somehow on the return flight. I tend to enjoy novels that go back and forth in time, and this book describes five generations of women who are quite remarkable. As the mother of daughters and the daughter of a strong mother, I often wonder (and worry) about the impacts we have on each other. ...more
By "a short history" here, we're talking about five generations of women ranging from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 21st. There's a handy lineage at the front of the book, and I do strongly suggest using it, because all of the women have the same first name - Dorothy - and there's very little differentiating the characters from one another except for the time and place mentioned at the beginning of each chapter. Which I then promptly forgot by the middle of each chapter, ...more
Aug 29, 2009 Emily rated it really liked it
To the author's credit, this is an ambitious book: the interconnected stories making up _A Short History of Women_ all concern feminism since suffrage, a heavy topic which could have easily led to the book being pigeon-holed and disregarded as an "idea book." As I read it, I remained skeptical (being of the anti-didactic camp when it comes to literature) but I did find myself riveted two or three times by how well Walbert crystallized certain aspects of the female experience, including, ...more
Jan 18, 2010 Nicholas rated it really liked it
LIke others here I read this book because of the absolutely stellar review in the Times Book Review. The premise -- tracing five generations of women beginning with a British suffragist who starved herself to death for the cause -- definitely appealed to me. Fiction all about women, and feminist women at that! But also like others I wanted to like this more than I actually did. I wanted to love it.

Walbert's writing is beautiful, no doubt about it. I also think the greatest strength of this nove
Jan 25, 2011 Mariellen rated it liked it
When this book was first suggested for our book club, I thought it was non-fiction. I didn't see the (A Novel) label at the bottom until after I started reading.
I enjoyed the book -- after I got past the first 33 pages. The writing style was annoying at first. It seemed cryptic and confusing. When the book got to the first chapter of Dorothy Townsend Barrett, the writing changed and it was a much more pleasant read. I did have to keep going back to the lineage chart to remember who was who - too
Sep 30, 2009 Susann rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Kate S. and Melissa P., maybe?
Recommended to Susann by: Time Out NY
What a smart, good book. Walbert has created five generations - a century+ - of women in one family. Starting with Dorothy, an English suffragist and mother of two, who starves herself to death, Walbert shows each woman, quietly or not-so-quietly, doing her best to figure things out while not quite connecting with her family.

The book's structure is a triumph. Walbert jumps through the decades, from character to character and then back to character, gradually showing the influence that each gener
Mar 08, 2010 Kerfe rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Kate Walbert's "A Short Hisotry of Women" is a meditation on the complications and conflicts of women's lives, no clearer or more easily resolved now than they were 150 years ago. More opportunity has not made lives or choices any less full of yearning, questioning, or regret.

Walbert's narrators include and descend from an early 20th century suffragette, who starves herself to death to call attention to "The Woman Question," and, seemingly, to justify her life. She leaves behind two children. He
Nov 14, 2011 Carolyn rated it really liked it
This novel recounts vignettes in the lives of a British suffragette who starved to death for the cause and a handful of her female descendants. The timeline spans the late 1800s to the present time, but it is anything but chronological. It starts and ends with Evelyn, daughter of the suffragette Townsend, but the intervening chapters hopscotch in time, with central characters often being revisited at different points in their lives. Written in spare, compressed, but gorgeous prose, the novel ...more
Eric Kibler
Mar 14, 2010 Eric Kibler rated it it was amazing
This is a superb piece of writing. A book to be savored. Contained within a mere 237 pages is a family saga that jumps back and forth through time like the work of Proust, with a style that recalls Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse". The family springs from Dorothy Trevor Townsend, who starves herself to death to call attention to women's suffrage in 1914. The story is told through her eyes, and through those of her descendants, restless, questing women all, up to the present day. The book ...more
Feb 04, 2010 Kat rated it really liked it
I highly recommend Kate Walbert's novel A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMEN, which zigzags through time and geography as it tells the story of a handful of women. All of them are related by blood, though sometimes unaware of the other branches on the family tree. One is a British suffragette on a hunger strike; one is a woman with grown children who engages in civil disobedience at Dover, Delaware, where the bodies come back from the war in Iraq; one is a chemistry professor at Barnard College; one an ...more
Mar 23, 2015 Bandit rated it liked it
This was a thematic read to celebrate the national women's history month. Seems like a perfect choice and from a thematic perspective it really was. As a book, it was more mixed, less than perfect. The literary quality of the work is unquestionable, but the somewhat emotionally aloof way of writing and the timeline jumping narrative too a while to get used to and get into. This story of several generations of women in a family, starting with late 1900s and continuing into 2000s was interesting ...more
Feb 05, 2016 Danielle rated it really liked it
This novel of several generations opens with a suffragette in England going on a hunger strike in 1914, which her thirteen-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son witness. We then follow the lives of her daughter and her son's daughter and (great) grandchildren until we're in post–9/11 New York.

I really enjoyed the story of each woman wanting, and sometimes finding a way, to Do Something. I enjoyed one woman's fascination with Florence Nightingale as more than a nurse.

The only issue I had with th
Dec 19, 2015 Alexa rated it it was ok
Shelves: fab-15
Nope, this did next-to-nothing for me. A dull meandering start, a few instances of momentary potential interest, all left lying unexplored, and then a meandering pointless finish.
Holly Lee (Bellas Novella)
Wow this book was a challenge to read. I had to be 100% focused the entire time to get through it. I found that it helped to take notes on how the characters connected with each other, small events that would help me remember their link. In the front there is a family tree that is helpful, but a few of the characters have the same names, as in common in families, which made it hard to keep everyone straight.

I love stories about families, and author Kate Walbert had a great concept. It follows t
Oct 28, 2009 Rashida rated it really liked it
Shelves: herstory
My only quibble is with the title. Were this called A Short History of (Rich, White) Women, I would probably be giving it 5 stars. That said, I loved the brevity of this book, and the way it signaled to me that Walbert knows she can't answer "The Woman Question," no matter how long the tome. What she does do, is paint deep portraits of multiple women of one family from before the first World War right up to our modern times and facebook. I did feel a connection to these women, despite the ...more
Jun 24, 2016 Tom rated it did not like it
I was motivated to read this book because it was recommended in the review section of THE WEEK and it also sounded like a historical novel. I really like historical novels. I also thought I be seen as a cool old man reading a "womens's book" and had hopes of telling all my Goodreader buddies about the book. Then, yall would read it and say what a great book it was.
Unfortunalely, I thought the book was horrible. There are 15 chapters. I assumed the book would be written in chronological order and
K Krause
May 12, 2009 K Krause rated it it was amazing
Walbert is a master at weaving together fragments, strands of stories and histories and making out of them a whole. I loved "Where She Went" and "Our Kind" and I love this current novel of hers no less. A "short" history of women bears some irony (intentional?)that such a history could be short, but the irony makes sense when you read the book that begins with "the woman question" circa the last turn of the century. Women are still questioning themselves today and her book speaks to the history ...more
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The F-word: December FICTION selection A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMEN 11 42 Dec 20, 2015 04:35PM  
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  • Nothing Right
  • Follow Me
  • Lark & Termite
  • Chronic City
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  • Do Not Deny Me
  • Once the Shore
  • A History of U.S. Feminisms
  • In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
  • My Father's Tears and Other Stories
  • No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women
  • Cheever
  • Selected Stories
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  • The New Valley: Novellas
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Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan and Pennsylvania, among other places.

She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecti
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