Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is indeed, as its subtitle suggests, the story of four women "undercover" in the Civil War. Each woman, Belle Boyd, EmmaLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is indeed, as its subtitle suggests, the story of four women "undercover" in the Civil War. Each woman, Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonds, Rose O'Neal, and Elizabeth Van Lew are exceptional subjects, each one a combination of the four titular categories, and each one bringing to the table a great variety of motivations and character types. One is a mother, one a teenager, one a spinster, and one a young woman fleeing an abusive home. Two are Confederates and two are Unionists. One is a soldier, two are temptresses, and all are spies and liars. At the very least, this book is a fascinating exercise in "compare and contrast," as we used to do in school. The narrative follows the course of the Civil War chronologically, cutting back and forth between each woman and her adventures. I found each one extremely fascinating . So much so that I always initially found it irritating to be suddenly cut off and reading about someone else, only to get interested in HER story and subsequently irritated when the point of view switched back. The author does a very, very good job of explaining and sympathizing with the ladies' viewpoints, while not necessarily embracing them. Their personalities all shine through exceedingly well. Mostly, the facts of the stories are presented as remembered by the women from their own memoirs, supplemented by letters and memoirs of others. Their pronouncements are mostly taken at face value. In other words, what the women say happened, is what happened, period, regardless of how unbelievable it sounded. At one point Emma Edmonds is a white woman, disguised as a white man, disguised as a slave women! I remember only once when the author flatly contradicted the reminisces of her subject, reporting that she could not possibly have been at that battle and was, thus, lying. Even a little more analysis like that would have been appreciated, but the lack of it is not a major flaw. A little more troubling was the author's few dips into speculation (for instance, a description of what a drowning person thought about while drowning). Nevertheless, this was mostly enthralling, dramatic stuff, well-written, well-paced, and well-presented. ...more
The War of the Roses by Dan Jones is a narrative of the titular wars, a notoriously confusing period of British history. All of the participants have sThe War of the Roses by Dan Jones is a narrative of the titular wars, a notoriously confusing period of British history. All of the participants have similar names. Most men are named Richard, Edward, or Henry, when they aren't referred to by their title. (I kept getting "Stafford" and "Suffolk" confused). And, of course, all these Richards, Edwards, and Henrys are all first, second, third, or fourth cousins of one another. Or they are in-laws of each other. Or both cousins AND in-laws. Their fathers and sons are all Richards, Edwards and Henrys too, when THEY aren't being referred to by title. And all of these players have their own motivations, loyalties, factions, agendas, schemes, back stories, and/or personal problems to keep track of - all of which are necessary to understand what is going on. The author tries to keep everything straight, explain who everyone is, and relate what exactly happens. It's a admirable, almost Herculean effort, and he generally succeeds. For the most part, I found it very readable, if a bit dry at times. The different historical figures are not given a whole lot of personality. There is not much discussion or depth of, for an example, how did Henry VI go so wrong? Or what was Richard III thinking, exactly? The author steers clear of any such speculation, which is a dangerous slope for a historian climb, as interesting as it may be.
All in all, it was a pretty good overview. ...more
Don’t Know Much About the Civil War I picked this up because although I do know much about the Civil War, I thought it would be fun to go over it againDon’t Know Much About the Civil War I picked this up because although I do know much about the Civil War, I thought it would be fun to go over it again. However, this book is not as entertaining as the title would lead you to believe. In fact, it is quite dry at times. I thought there were a few minor errors, but did not note them down and I do not remember them now.
The author is operating under the assumption that his readers don’t know much because they got all of their information from Gone With the Wind and prejudicial school textbooks. Maybe this was true in the 1950s; I don’t know. It certainly isn’t true anymore. Most of the “surprising” facts he presented WERE taught in my school. Many of the myths he sought to discredit have long been discarded.
However, it is easy to read and quite accessible. So it may be a good choice for older readers who really don’t know much about the civil war, but wish too. Anyone who was in school from the early nineties on (and who paid attention) may not find it nearly so useful. ...more
The Elusive Eden is a clear, well-written history, regarding one of the bands of Confederates who migrated to Brazil after the Civil War. Griggs drawsThe Elusive Eden is a clear, well-written history, regarding one of the bands of Confederates who migrated to Brazil after the Civil War. Griggs draws on firsthand accounts and details Frank McMillan’s life, his emigrant plans, the groups problems and setbacks, and struggles to succeed. This is one of these intriguing “footnotes of history” and is a story that deserves being told.
However, the actual story is more interesting in its set up than it its pay off. That is, the concept is fascinating, but the settlers don’t actually do anything all that interesting. Being mostly concerned with scraping together a living, they don’t spout racist rhetoric. They don’t bring back the slave trade. They don’t recreate the plantation system and the antebellum way of life. Instead they build small houses and scratch out a few crops. Many eventually give up and move back home. The movement just peters out.
As far as history books go, this one tends towards the academic side, though it is still quite readable. Those interested in the subject will like it. ...more