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Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love
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Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  665 ratings  ·  71 reviews
In this road map to restoring feminine sexual power, Betsy Prioleau introduces and analyzes the stories and stratagems of history?s greatest seductresses. These are the women who ravished the world?from such classic figures as Cleopatra and Mae West to such lesser-known women as the infamous Violet Gordon Woodhouse, who lived in a ménage with four men. Smarts, imagination, ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 26th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2003)
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3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  665 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Ellay Branton
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is my self-esteem bible.

The title suggests using one's sexuality to gain power. The book goes so much deeper than that, though. Our femininity is the source of our strength, much as a man's physical build is his. Rather than stifling this, and resorting to either Madonna or whore archetypes, Prioleau suggests we use the whole of our femininity, from our innate empathy to our resiliency. She cites neatly organized and well-researched examples of several different types of women: nonbeau
Mar 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book; a lot of it was really informative, and Prioleau writes about these women with a particular energy and enthusiasm that catches on to you. I disagreed with a couple of the choices she made in subjects - some because they weren't really much more than sociopaths who managed to abuse their way to the top and one or two because I rejected her (very optimistic) take on them - but, ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Prioleau was writing about women who got power. T ...more
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
I think I would have liked this book a lot better if it had been a simple encyclopedia of seductresses throughout history. There are so many fascinating women in this book and their stories are full and rich. I want to write plays for at least ten of them. However, the surrounding tissue of the bones of those stories was really hard to wade through. It's the author's contention that any seductress is a personification of the goddess of Inanna and she found a multitude of ways to claim that this ...more
Feb 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-2011

There are a limited number of times and places where the word "razzmatazz" can be used without irony, and this book was not one of them. I loved the subject matter, but the tone of the book is absolutely intolerable.
Mar 29, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
Ugh, the writing stopped me straight away from finishing this book (or getting very far into it, for that matter). The way Prioleau writes alternates between ridiculously flowery verbosity and redundant repetition, all with this overt "girl power!" theme. Not mature or straightforward at all.
An interesting read. Although the content is subjective, however you view it, there is a large amount of fascinating historical information imbedded in the conjecture. Much of this is an assumption of what really was happening in places and times that any historical nuances can only be conjecture.

The presumptions throughout are interesting in the context of the subject. Having been written by a woman, and me reading it as a man added an additional level of conspicuousness to the entire subject m
Nov 22, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I was hoping for a lot from this book, something about feminism and seduction or how western culture and Christianity have worked against female sexuality. Instead, the first chapter was about ancient fertility goddesses and the next 6/7 chapters are about the reincarnation of said goddesses in the way of famous women that drove men crazy. Essentially its a mini bio of famous women, men that loved them, and how they are the reincarnation of an ancient sex goddess. The same thing over and over ag ...more
Oct 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
After reading a few chapters, I was anxious to skip to the biographies. Reading the biographies, I quickly became bored - they all sounded the same.

The seductresses were portrayed as goddesses. I found that to be a bit unreal. It seems as though the men who were seduced were weak and unable to stand on their own. Even after they were cheated on time and time again, they came back for more. Personally, I'd rather have a man who's strong enough to stand up to me.

To be honest, I skimmed most of the
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“For twenty-five thousand years before there was a male deity, mankind probably worshiped a goddess. More than merely a swag-bellied fertility idol, she was a cosmic sexpot, the be-all and end-all who created heaven and earth and reigned supreme over human destiny. She gave and took life, revived the dead, raised the tempest, ripened the grain, conferred civilization, and reduced her servant, man, to fear, lust, and sublime rapture. He propitiated her with gifts and prostrated himself before the ...more
Dec 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
I first read about this one on Salon and was intrigued. Unfortunately, the tone of the book is a little too You Go Girl! for me. Prioleau spends too much time cheerleading both the courtesans and her readers; I tend to prefer a drier mix of scholarly tone and juicy gossip (Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser).
Diana Mafikovi
The good: I enjoyed Chapter 7, "Machtweiber: Seductresses in Politics," as Prioleau profiled some powerful historical women I admire. I subscribe to the belief Prioleau touts, that there is power in female sexuality, but that this sort of power is misunderstood as mostly beauty-based and fleeting. Women who use these powers for self-fulfillment have always been criticized, but such condemnation reflects outdated patriarchal values.

The bad: My complaints are mostly stylistic. The language was ext
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have very mixed feelings about this book, but I am going to give it 5 stars anyway.

I want to write a more comprehensive review later on, but for now, I just wanted to say that if you are able to distill the important stuff and ignore the annoying parts, this book could be a very good book to read for women of any age. I would definitely recommend it to my daughters once they are a bit older.

Its been a few months now since I've read this book, and I have to say that this is one of those b
Ameya Warde
Sep 15, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldnt-finish
I really wanted to like this book. The topic is of interest to me. But the writing was just... too abrasive, and I couldn't finish it. First she condemned feminism for condemning these sexually empowered historical women (we have??) and then there is a lot of talk of women's superiority to men for all these sexy reasons, which again... makes me so uncomfortable. And worst of all, there was a lot of assumptions being flaunted as truth dealing with historical facts. From reading this book, you'd t ...more
Jan 27, 2009 marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction, history
So far this book is not at all what I expected, but not in a bad way. The preface and the first chapter are explaining the book as the history of seduction and seductresses, how it relates to feminism and how if more women did things like those of famous seductresses, we would be more liberated. My favorite quote so far is about how men "cling like crotch crabs to their historic prerogatives of the initiative, double standard, promiscuity, mate trade-ins, domination and domestic copouts."I also ...more
Jun 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Overall, this was a very good read. I am constantly interested in books that illustrate a saucier side of history. You will meet Violet Gordon Woodhouse who had four husbands, Jane Digby who leaves a string of loves to seek the ultimate life and love she wants in the deserts of the Middle East, or the psychoanalyst/author Lou Andreas-Salome who ensnares Friedrich Nietzsche into a love triangle.

There were moments where I wanted more detail on each of the women presented to weigh what was being p
Mar 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
Couldn't even get through the end. The good: the anecdotes of real life women, especially recognizable names, were entertaining and insightful. The bad: the writer's definition of female empowerment was superficial and insulting. She relied upon women who were mentally imbalanced and money hungry to be her paragons of independence. I struggle with female figures being upheld as the beacons of female progress when all they do is participate in high end prostitution and suck the money from men aro ...more
Nov 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Somewhat fun, but confusing. Mini biographies of some very interesting women. Albeit the bios are reductive to the point of pithy and even trite. Having read full biographies on a lot of them, some of the author's points were over-simplified and glossy as compared to the researched fact. The author also keeps talking about some goddess Innana, and I kept wondering when I'd met her and what she was all about. Apparently all the women in the book are some manifestation of Innana, but I failed to g ...more
Dec 27, 2007 rated it liked it
I loved the themes in this book, but I would have preferred the focus to be on detailed, in-depth biographies with more substance. Instead, for me the brief summaries of so many different women diminished what the writer actually set out to accomplish. These women were confident, captivating, exciting, passionate, and adventurous; well-deserving of books dedicated to the way they lived their lives. I found myself feeling more empowered, sensual, inspired... but I still thought that Prioleau left ...more
Rachel Swords
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An absolute delight of a book! Woman as femme fatale at her finest is noted within the pages of "Seductress" with several infamous examples (Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Mae West, Catherine the Great) and a few who were notorious in their day, but have faded with obscurity (Isabella Stewart Gardner, Martha Gelhorn, Louise Labe). Each woman is fascinating in her history and abilities, which range from mild to astonishing. Worship of the sexual goddess, woman as seductory artists, and seduction in poli ...more
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Brilliant. An uplifting and inspiring look at women who refused to be submissive, who refused to accept the roles and the stigmas society laid upon them. Some were beauties, but many were not. Some were sirens from the time they hit puberty, others discovered their seductive powers late in life. All of them, whether wealthy or poor, beauty or no, commanded an innate sense of what men want (and need, though they don't often recognize it in themselves) in a woman in order to fall madly, truly madl ...more
Apr 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting compilation of short biographies of numerous women throughout the ages who were able to overcome the patriarchal basis of society and become wealthy and powerful in their own right. Along the way are commentaries by the author that add spice and interest to the variety of women who used their wiles to control men and get what they wanted. Though men will find it interesting, the book was written for women or at least the commentary of the author seems to be directed at women. ...more
Tiffany Shaw
Apr 03, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Feminists and wannabe seductresses
Prioleau seems unwilling to explore the criticism of the women whose lives she chronicles for more then the space it takes to brush it off. Her prose, when discussing vagaries and underlying themes, is cloying and overly floral; think Tom Robbins pumped up with estrogen...without a plot...and not that good. Her ideas were interesting; I am inclined to go back to her source material. My favorite parts were the biographies of famous seductresses, but even these I felt were too cursory. Overall, it ...more
May 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Women who love being women
Shelves: requiredreading
Wow! This book completely eradicates all conceptions that feminists can't revel in thier beauty and sexuality and love being loved! The women in this book were made famous for their abilty to read what men wanted, as well as for thier wit and intelligence. Now that is a serious triple threat! It was once said, "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty BEAUTY is a power" and I think this still holds true if only we weren't so afraid to use what we have!
Olivie Blake
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: s-p-e-l-l
[June's read for the S.P.E.L.L., Society for the Promotion of Erotic Ladies in Literature.] Every woman needs to read this book. The writing exuberantly embraces the divine feminine; it's full of fascinating historical/mythological women, empowering its audience (i.e., women) by casting aside the patriarchy-friendly morality we were so relentlessly taught to discount. Don't skip the notes—they were some of my favorite pieces of astoundingly blunt and "holy shit, u right" commentary.
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I adore this book! It is all portraits on women throughout history who have, as the title says, ravished the world and everyone around them. the book is separated into different sections depending on the type of seductress the woman was. It's a fasctinating read. I think the saddest part, though, is how little-known most of these women as.
Anne-marie Coonan
Jul 16, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is awful and great at the same time. I didn't love the writing, nor the whole premise of the book, but I will say this I certainly had opinions about it. I think there'll be a very interesting discussion over book club on this one. What does it mean to be a woman? What type of feminist are you if you are one? How should sexuality be used? What are men for? etc.
May 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feministic
Wow. I bought this at Powells this weekend, and couldn't tear myself away from it until I had Finished. At first I was a bit sceptical because I had found it in the "feminism" section, but it turned out to be every bit as amazing as I could have hoped. Modern day women ought to embrace thier sexuality as much as historical figures.
Nov 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Great read! A needed broadening and revision of feminism situating female sexuality as a fundamentally intellectual and creative trait; a primordial power that women can and have used in creative ways. Very interesting historical overview of so-called seductresses spanning many different categories (adventuresses, artists, politicians, etc).
Kristi Marshae
Apr 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
the theme of this book grew tiring very quickly; it's as if the author is lecturing the reader on how to be a sex kitten & she constantly emphasized how to keep the boys coming back for more (gag). however, it redeemed itself in that i learned about some very fabulous ladies, and it has since led me to reading more about their lives.
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