A Short History of Women
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A Short History of Women

3.08 of 5 stars 3.08  ·  rating details  ·  2,084 ratings  ·  490 reviews
A Short History of Women opens in England in 1915, at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragist and one of the first women to integrate Cambridge University. Dorothy's daughter, Evie, travels America after WWI and becomes a professor of chemistry at Barnard College. Decades later, following the death of her son, Evie's niece, also named Dorothy, defies the ban on phot...more
Hardcover, Large Print, 302 pages
Published July 1st 2009 by Center Point (first published May 31st 2009)
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Karen Daubert

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

...more
David
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
Felice
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...more
Johnny
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 diso...more
Grace
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...more
Jeff
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...more
Barbara A
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...more
Dana
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 go...more
Jackie
Mar 16, 2009 Jackie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Kathrina
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,...more
Mariellen
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...more
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...more
Susi
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
Ruth Harper
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. Thi...more
Carolyn
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 bri...more
Lucille
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...more
Susann
Sep 30, 2009 Susann rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Nick
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...more
Mr. Cole
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 diso...more
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...more
Emily
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, particul...more
Rashida
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 demogr...more
Kerfe
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...more
Kat
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 affl...more
Tom
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...more
Mara
I think I would have liked this book better is I'd known what the message was supposed to be. That successive generations are bound by an ancestor's acts, either to repeat it or react against it? Or the opposite, as seems to be what happens here: just because your mother/grandmother/great-grandmother/great-great-grandmother (as we move through the generations) starved herself in the name of suffrage, that has absolutely no bearing on your own tendency toward activism. As vignettes of the lives o...more
K Krause
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
Barbara
This novel is told from the viewpoint of 5 generations of women, beginning at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragist who starved herself to death in protest in 1914. The same issues and her response to them affect her descendents in different and yet similar ways. This is an engaging book, not at all a polemic. It made me see issues from the perspective of the people who loved the women as well. The changing viewpoints works for some authors, but, in this case, I was often confused. This...more
Chris
This book had a good idea, even a great one, but it did not deliver. What it really needed was a better editor to make the writer re-do everything but the basic idea by the third draft. And then to force the writer to recognize that her technically grammatically correct but in fact sloppy and wandering writing style is inappropriate in a book of this type. I was really disappointed in this book, and it only got one star at all because it did have about seven or eight really good paragraphs that...more
Mara Shaw
Have you ever 'cheated' on Goodreads? I did. Halfway through this book, I thought, "I'm not following the five generations of women. I wonder if this gets better?" So I read the reviews on Goodreads to see what others thought.

After reading reviews that criticized the book as a collection of disjointed vignettes that end just as they got interesting, I picked it up again with confirmation that it might not get better.

But I was wrong. The characters come to full life -- all five generations that a...more
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