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Louisa May Alcott

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  521 ratings  ·  151 reviews
Louisa May Alcott never intended to write "Little Women." She had dismissed her publisher's pleas for such a novel. Written out of necessity to support her family, the book had an astounding success that changed her life, a life which turned out very differently from that of her beloved heroine Jo March. In "Louisa May Alcott, "Susan Cheever, the acclaimed author of "Ameri...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 2nd 2010 by Simon & Schuster (first published October 27th 2010)
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I downloaded this audiobook from my library not so much because I wanted to hear about the life of Louisa May Alcott as much as I wanted to hear what it was like to grow up surrounded by people like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott,
William Ellery Channing and Henry James. Probably 80% of the book was devoted to her friends, families, and homes rather than about her life.

Apparently, Louisa developed a lifetime crush on Emerson. Who wouldn't? The next...more
I am a sucker for a Louisa May Alcott biography. This one, however, was not very good. It did not have a very good sense of chronology (especially in LMA's later years) and you would think she only wrote three books. The Author also never lets you forget that she is the child of a famous author as well. She also claims this is "a personal biography", and that she spent a lot of time with original letters and diaries, but it really doesn't appear so from the text, which often seems to be a summar...more
Margaret Heller
This is somewhere between a 2 and a 3. I found parts of this really fascinating and compelling for reasons I don't care to go into. (I get the feeling I am crazy in all the same ways as Louisa May Alcott). But the historiography and frankly, the history in some places, is problematic. Two examples: she constantly mentions that doctors didn't wash their hands, but she never mentions Semmelweis and also gives the impression that all surgery was a death sentence. She also relates the story of the i...more
I read this biography a few years back and I can't really recall why I decided to check out this particular book at the book store, but it caught my attention and raised my interest from the first chapter. The genre of biography is not as familiar to me; however, I found the author's execution of disclosing facts very informational and also entertaining. There was a slow moving portion at the beginning of the book that focuses more on Alcott's father, but that was necessary in order to grasp the...more
Alexandra Michaelides
Louisa May Alcott lived a fascinating life, and this comes through in Susan Cheever's biography, yet the book is a let down. Perhaps the problem with the book is it's subtitle, "a personal biography." Most of the book isn't a "personal biography," whatever that means, but occasionally Cheever interjects tidbits about herself, makes grand generalizations about women and life, that distract from the narrative of the biography. While bias is unavoidable, I felt that Cheever's voice was too strong a...more
Anyone who has ever loved Little Women, will adore this biography. Susan Cheever, author of a book I previously read, American Bloomsbury, has written a wonderful, well-researched book on one of my childhood's best-loved writers. Ms. Cheever tells of Alcott's journey, difficult as it may have been, with the eyes of a fan. This is not a snarky, "I can't understand her fame" books. I am going to re-read my old favorite Alcott books, beginning tonight. One is never too old for a good story.
I highl...more
I wanted to read this book because I like the whole idea of New England as a furnace of writing and intellect and policy in the Nineteenth Century. Plus, although I am a guy, I really liked Little Women --- mainly because I think that LMA is a good storyteller. I also had visited Concord and went to tour "The Orchards" which was one of the longer term Alcott homes and where LMA churned out Little Women.

I am still unsure what Ms. Cheever means by a "personal biography" (her book's subtitle) and,...more
Simcha Lazarus
When I was a kid my mother took to visit the Alcott home in Concord, Massachusetts, and I still remember the thrill of being in the very same house Louis May Alcott lived and wrote in. So it was a bit disappointing to discover, in the course of listening to this biography, that the house I had visited was not really Alcott's childhood home, or that the warm, close-knit family that I had imagine living there didn't really exist. But really, that was the only disappointment I experienced while lis...more
Kathleen Hulser
Thoughtful context for the pioneering tomboy. Papa Bronson Alcott was a giant pain in the neck, despite his satchel-full of utopian schemes, and it's a wonder the girl was not crushed beneath his giant ego. Not surprising that Susan Cheever manages a sensitive analysis of a family with a father writer/philosopher and worshiping, yet very independent, daughter. Louisa's "room with a view" was a tiny writing desk, and tales of her competing with rats and wasps in the attic to get some personal spa...more
Loni Spendlove
Susan Cheever did her homework for this biography of the Author of American Girl's most beloved book, Little Women, but sometimes I felt like she jumped to conclusions that weren't documented, only speculated upon. There were a lot of details of the time period that I found interesting, but I felt like Louisa May Alcotts life was looked at through the purple-colored glasses of the 21st Century.

(Caution...just set up my soapbox) This is what makes me frustrated about our day: WHY is everything v...more
Cheever, Susan. Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography. 8CDs. 9.5 Hours. Tantor Media, Inc. 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4001-1790-1 $34.99. NF

A thorough examination of the life of Louisa and her parents. With references to Louisa's journals, correspondence and previously written biographies, Cheever presents every detail of Alcott's life through the lens of current events such as abolitionism and the Civil War. She is brutally honest, including hints that Bronson may have sexually abused his daughters. A...more
This is the first biography of Louisa that I have ever read, but it won't be the last. One of the ways that I know I've read a good book is that it makes me want to read about 10 other books - in this case a few more bios of Louisa, something by and about Emerson and Thoreau, and certainly to revisit the Marches. And considering my interest in simplicity, it's kinda ridiculous that I've never read Walden. And I want to know about Transcendentalism. And I want to read Hospital Sketches. And I won...more
There seems to be a boom in books about Louisa May Alcott. Perhaps there are more out there, but this is the third bio I've read in 3 years (plus a novel last summer). Both Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father and the Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women are traditional biographies in that they recount Louisa May Alcott's life through careful sifting of the existing records. Cheever's sub-title "A Personal Biography" signals that this will be different - a b...more
I never actually read "Little Women", but it was impossible to avoid Louisa May Alcott growing up in Massachusetts. Even if you don't appreciate her work this is still an excellent history book. Cheever does an excellent job in explaining the relationships between the New England transcendentalists and their influence on America. It's interesting how much their attitudes were similar to the modern day hippie movement -- open relationships, vegetarianism, nudism, etc. It's all there. The accounts...more
I didn't have very high hopes for this. I liked Little Women as much as the next bookish girl, but was never especially obsessed with it as I was other books--I never could relate to Jo, clearly intended to be the most sympathetic sister, with her tyrannical moodiness and her contempt for the silly trappings of other females. And to the extent that I thought of Louisa May Alcott at all, it certainly wasn't as the kind of colorful character about whom I'd want to read a biography. But this was un...more
Interesting ... If you never read a bio of LMA before, don't start with this one: it's not a full-scale biography. It's part biography, part autobiography, and part examination of the relationship between the biographer and her subject. Susan Cheever's relationship to her father affects her vision of Bronson Alcott, as she says, and her scholarship into LMA's life allows her to point out discrepancies in existing biographies.

It's impossible to write a book about LMA that I wouldn't want to read,...more
A must read for any Alcott fan. Cheever does a great job exploring the real life experiences that inspired Alcott's masterpiece, Little Women. Throughout her life Louisa May Alcott defied societal wisdom by refusing to settle for a life of domestic certainty. Her life at times paralleled that of her most famous character, "Jo.". As a result, she was able to experience life beyond the constraints available to most women of her time. This was a worthy, quick read.
Picked this book up at Book People in Austin, Texas last December and read it straight through. I really enjoyed it and decided, based on the book, to order some other Alcott work, with an eye towards incorporating her into my American Studies class. Much better, I think, than Cheever's American Bloomsbury, which, although good, does not capture my heart and brain as do the original Bloomsbury group.
I've always loved Little Women and assumed that Louisa May Alcott based the book heavily on her own biography. This book indicates that Little Women is the story of the home life Alcott would have preferred. It was difficult to read about her father, Bronson, a self-made idealist with little formal education who failed on many fronts in his life, making life difficult for his wife and four daughters. Reading about the family's friendship with now-famous Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau was...more
Sara Van Dyck
A fascinating, thoughtful biography of Alcott and examination of her times, not just for lovers of Alcott’s books. Read it not for the biographical details but the questions it raises. Cheever asks: Did Alcott have a happy life? She worked hard most of her life, had no children, never married, and had little time to enjoy the money she earned, spending it primarily on taking care of her family. Cheever says: “…Louisa May Alcott had a happy life but..she had something more important –a life and a...more
3.5 stars. An informative read that interweaves in great detail Louisa may Alcott's personal history with that of the USA during civil war.
Karin Feeney-Cass
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. Ultimately I enjoyed it but I had to read it with an open mind just in order to finish it. It's not quite a straightforward biography, and sometimes it seemed all over the place, but taking the book as the sum of its parts - or as a collection of parts - it is an interesting read.

Cheever almost lost me altogether on page 28 when in one paragraph she threw out a passing suggestion that Bronson Alcott may have sexually abused his daughter(s) which...more
Susan Cheever does an admirable job providing the background for Louisa May Alcott's life. Thoroughly researched, Alcott's life becomes a string of unbelievably rich connections to the famously talented and intellectually superior individuals of her time -- Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne, Henry James, Whitman, & Dickinson. Growing up as a neighbor to perhaps the two most esteemed thinkers and philosophers of her day -- Emerson and Thoreau, she reaped the benefit of their wisdom and guidance. Th...more
I enjoyed reading this book and learning about Louisa May Alcott. It was disappointing to read how unhappy and problem-filled LMA's life was since her books gave so much pleasure to me and many other readers, but perhaps not surprising. Suffering and genius often seem to go hand in hand. This book was readable and easy to follow, but the author had a slight problem with flow--she sometimes jumped randomly from subject to subject within a paragraph. And the author should have resisted injecting h...more
(Lonestarlibrarian) Keddy Ann Outlaw
Having never read a biography of Alcott, I'm glad I picked this up, but I think there are better biographies out there. The coverage felt a little spotty, and the author sometimes jarringly asserts herself; not sure that was always a good technique. I learned plenty about Alcott; her life was much harder than I ever knew. Always fascinating to get a glimpse of the interconnected lives of Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne and the Alcotts....

Had Louisa's father, Bronson Alcott not been such an unreliab...more
Cynthia Brignoly
I enjoyed Susan Cheever's personal insights on how Louisa's personal life reflected in her writing. It was interesting to note that the novel Louisa preferred the most(her many revisions of "Moods")was the least popular. "Little Women," a novel she was requested to write by her publisher and encouraged to pursue by her father, became her best known work. In 1869, the novel "Old Fashioned Girl", which sold only 20,000 copies less than "Little Women", fairly popular for its time, surprisingly is u...more
I received this for Christmas from my aunt, and I'm so glad she thought of me. I'm not a big reader of biographies, not because I do not like them, but because I devour fiction preferentially. I enjoyed reading this biography, which besides telling about Ms Alcott's life, also spoke frequently of the perils and practices of writing biography.

I learned more about some people I had known only a little about and a lot about people I had known almost nothing about; and I felt a connection to places...more
Joan Colby
Cheever does a good job of putting Louisa into context in her era and culture, growing up amid the transcendentalists, her idols being Emerson and Thoreau. Though one of the group, well respected for his progressive ideas on education, her father Branson was a star-gazing idealist whose notions seldom bore fruit, but led to the family living in penury, dependent on wife, the tireless Abba, and the four daughters. For many years, the family struggled in genteel poverty living on bread and apples....more
Carl Rollyson
Susan Cheever has written an engaging biography of Louisa May Alcott. This book is deeply personal, beginning with a preface that details Cheever's own fascination with the author of "Little Women," a work that has inspired generations of women, including budding writers like Susan Sontag and Cheever herself. The book's main character, Jo March, is one of the few writer/heroines depicted before the age of feminist fiction.

Louisa May Alcott thrived under a demanding father who believed in progres...more
I was tickled by this book. I think the description on the cover identifies it perfectly: "A Narrative Biography." The book is a fast, easy, enjoyable read. Cheever (not, incidentally, one of my favorite writers, actually) conveys all the flurry of Alcott's full life without getting bogged down once. She freely references other biographies and biographers, so if you want a more in-depth, more "academic" look at Alcott, there are plenty of resources made available. This book was such a pleasure t...more
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