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Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,651 ratings  ·  387 reviews
In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Rioux recounts how Louisa May Alcott came to write Little Women, drawing inspiration for it from her own life. Rioux also examines why this tale of family and community ties, set while the Civil War tore America apart, has resonated through later wars, the Depression, and times of changing opportunities for women.

Rioux sees the novel’s beating heart
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 21st 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a joy to read and I hated to see it end. Even if you’re not a Little Women aficionado, there’s a lot to learn here about societal, educational and cultural trends (just to name a few topics) of the past 150 years. (150 years! It’s hard to believe that a book I started loving as a child and that’s still relevant today was written that long ago.)

The first section, ‘The Making of a Classic’, gives a brief history of how and why Little Woman came to be and of its instant fame. I didn’t thin
Diane Barnes
Aug 31, 2018 rated it liked it
A well-written, interesting and well thought out book about the novel and what it meant to the girls of yesterday, and the new readers of today. Also a surprising mini biography of Alcott's own life and how closely it mirrored the characters and action in her classic. Recommended to anyone who is a Little Women fan. ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
2018 marks the 150th anniversary of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, a novel which became a trendsetter best seller, influencing generations of girls.

Anne Boyd Rioux's new book Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: the Story of Little Women and Why They Still Matter celebrates the novel's history, legacy, and influence.

I don't recall when I first read Little Women. I was given a copy of Alcott's later novel Eight Cousins when I was in elementary school. Madame Alexander created Little Women dolls, and in 1960
Beth Bonini
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Professor Anne Boyd Rioux makes some bold claims for Little Women, including that it is “arguably the most influential book ever written by an American woman.” This is not so much a work of literary criticism - although Rioux does cite what various literary critics have had to say about the novel - but more an examination of the work’s origins, a study of its relevance and popularity during the past 150 years, and an appraisal of its current status within the canon. Throughout, but particularly ...more
Oct 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This was rather fun, but I enjoyed the first half, about Alcott's life and the immediate reception of her most famous book, a great deal more than the second, which peters out into an examination of pretty much any contemporary work in any medium in which girls are the the main characters (Katniss and the Gilmore Girls get a lot of attention, apparently being literary descendants of Jo March; I was unconvinced). None the less, any fan of Little Women will want to read this, and should. I was ple ...more
Chris Wolak
One of the best books about a book/books that I’ve read. This is engaging literary scholarship for a popular audience — if you have the slightest interest in Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, 19th century American literature, film adaptations, literary history, reading & pop culture, or young girls’ and boys’ reading choices/experiences (among a host of other issues), this is a book you’ll want to check out.

I'll write a more detailed review soon.
(See my Literary Hub article on rereading Little Women in its 150th anniversary year and watching the new BBC/PBS miniseries adaptation.) Rioux’s book unearths Little Women’s origins in Alcott family history, but also traces its influence through to the present day. Multiple generations of heroines, she believes, “owe an obvious debt to Alcott’s pathbreaking portrayal of a spunky young heroine with a literary bent”—everyone from Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series to He ...more
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Very enjoyable; I would have given it more stars if it had been longer and more developed.

I am a guy who loved Little Women when I first read it. I love it now, and have directed the musical based upon it twice. I have seen virtually every iteration of it on the silver screen --- and Rioux is dead on the money in her estimation of Hepburn's performance as Jo --- with a special fondness for the Winona Ryder version, with Sarandon's take-no-prisoners Marmee. In Rioux's universe, I am a unicorn. Bo
Rebecca H.
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux is a wonderful look at Louisa May Alcott’s novel, including its context, history, meaning, contemporary significance, and more. I loved Little Women and read it multiple times as a kid and teenager (and should read it again as an adult), so Rioux’s book was particularly fun for me, although I think anyone who is interested in literary history would get a lot out of it even if they weren’t an Alcott fan. It’ ...more
Mar 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, non-fiction
This book spoils endings for Little Women, the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games trilogy and the TV shows Gilmore Girls and Girls.
The first half disappointed me, but I enjoyed the second half quite a bit. The book begins with a brief biography of Louisa May Alcott, then continues to describe and analyze the various movie adaptations. It then lists books inspired by Little Women, books in which the characters read Little Women, writers who have found Little Women to be incredibly influential
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Little Women is one of my favorite books which means sometimes I reveled in this cultural exploration of it and at other times it made me cringe.
Carol Storm
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read this whole book in one day while filling in as a high school librarian at the wonderful school where I substitute teach. This book was so much fun and it's absolutely the best companion you could ever have to the wonderful classic novel by Louis May Alcott. It gives a bang-up biography of the author, and shows how she was and wasn't like Jo March. It shows what her career was like as a writer and how she got talked into writing a book for girls almost by accident. It shows the incredible ac ...more
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a really fascinating take on the importance and position of Little Women in the realm of American literature. I found myself learning new things about a book I loved and the legacy it left behind.
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very unique look at one of my favorite books. Anne Boyd Rioux looks at Little Women in various ways. Why it was written and the parallels between the March girls and Louisa's sisters and family. How the novel was published and of Louisa's writing career after. She also looks at the multi media aspect of Little Women. The different film productions, theater productions and an opera production. Her final focus was on how Little Women influenced other writers, actors and women of all kinds. She t ...more
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rioux's book is excellent! Even if you've never read Little Women and never will, this is a fascinating cultural history of the continuing influence of Little Women. I checked this out from the library, but am going to buy a copy - adding it to my collection of "books about books". Definitely a favorite read of 2018. Thank you to the @BookCougars podcast for selecting it as one of their readalongs for their "Summer of Little Women"!! ...more
Sarah Emsley
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I had been looking forward to reading this book for a long time and when I finally got a copy I couldn't put it down. I loved reading about the creation of Little Women and I found Anne Boyd Rioux's analysis of the book's afterlife fascinating, especially the chapter called "Can Boys Read Little Women?" and the long lists of writers who've been inspired by Alcott's novel, from J.K. Rowling to John Green to Simone de Beauvoir. ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Anne Boyd Rioux examines the life of Louisa May Alcott and her seminal classic novel Little Women and questions whether the story is still relevant for modern readers. (She argues that it is).

Section I, "The Making of a Classic", provides a brief biography of Louisa and how she came to write the novel. I didn't learn anything new there but when the discussion turned to the different editions of the novel and the illustrations featured within, I was more interested. It would be fun to collect eac
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
This was a bookclub selection. I probably would not have finished it otherwise. The first part was somewhat interesting with the bio information on LMA and her family. The second part was ok but the last part not so good. The author has done her research but she did not convince me of the relevance of Little Women for today's readers. Just my opinion. She generalized too much and claimed that LW had influenced lots of today's writers and tv shows. I'm sure it did influence some. I read LW when I ...more
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Super interesting for any reader of Little Women. Having just read Little Women for the first time since I was 13 and coming away from it a bit disappointed in its Victorian-era gender norms and lessons, this book was such a great help for me to see and appreciate the feminist side of Little Women! I never realized that it broke the mold in several ways: a book written about the lives of girls and women with men on the outside looking in, Jo being the first of a crop of literary girls who live a ...more
Lisa Jass
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found Rioux's book Meg Jo Beth and Amy to be both an informative and entertaining read. She gives an account of how Alcott came to write these beloved characters, but she also gives insight into why this story has endured as long as it has and has resonated with both writers and readers for generations and why some generations have more ties to these characters than others. As someone who is including Louisa May Alcott in my own dissertation, I found this book to be a useful addition to my res ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
A lovely overview of Alcott’s life, the publication history of Little Women, and how Alcott’s most famous creation has endured as a beloved work of American literature.

Unless we’re talking about the “canon” and then “ugh, girl cooties” which is the basis for almost an entire chapter about why boys don’t/aren’t expected to/can’t read “girl books” even as girls are fully expected to read “boy books” and I spent almost that whole chapter yelling PREACH SISTER at my iPad.
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
I liked the first half, about Alcott and her writing, lots, but I found the author's attempts to say meaningful things about the book were rather tedious (mostly lists of other people's opinions of the book, and discussion of contemporary media about girls). and she didn't convince me at all "why it still matters." Also Amy bashing annoys me, and I never wanted to be Jo, who the author seems to think is the ne plus ultra of girlhood. ...more
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent analysis of Little Women's cultural, feminist, and literary impact since its publication 150 years ago. I couldn't put it down and learned a lot about a book and author that I thought I was already familiar with. A recommended read for anyone interested in women's literature. ...more
Kate Howe
Nov 06, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
Unfortunately I’ve come to realize that books about books have a hard time retaining my interest long enough. I start out interested and then lose interest. I think the problem was me not the book.
Susan Bailey
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Most important work on Little Women in years - for the fan as well as the scholar

Disclaimer: I was sent an advance copy by the publisher to review.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of a classic read by millions around the globe. Written by Louisa May Alcott, a writer under duress fulfilling the assignment of an insistent publisher, Little Women, in the words of Anne Boyd Rioux is the “paradigmatic book about growing up, especially for the female half of the population.” He
I don't think I agree with Rioux's reading of Little Women. But I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Part biography, part analysis, part personal memoir, this book tries to uncover why Little Women is still relevant; why it still has an audience and why its readers responds to it with so much force.

Rioux masterfully contextualise Alcott's novel, merging it with the important events of her life. She dives into her childhood, highlights her other, lesser known, works and share anecdotes she has uncovered in
Tiffany Rose
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux is a look at the making of "Little Women", it's success, and why it is relevant today. It shows us how and why this book is a timeless classic.

I learned a lot from this book that I hadn't previously known. I liked how it went over how the characters reflected the author and her family. I also enjoyed how the author talked about the illustrations found in "Little Women". This book covers almost  everything y
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting biographical and historical information about Louisa May Alcott, some I knew but much I did not. I have a new appreciation for her, as she was a wildly successful writer who happened to be a woman, and as she supported her own family of origin and many of her sisters' families too. It's a short book, but I bailed at page 84, as we began to read of the move from the page to Broadway. I guess I'm not interested enough to hang in for another hundred pages, which seems to end with discus ...more
Jul 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
This is an excellent book to read following a read of the original classic! Rioux explores what Little Women has meant for generations of girls and women, as well as where it fits in today. There is a thorough exploration of various readings of it, whether from the view of resenting the characters for their domesticity, or celebrating them for their feminism. I think there were a few parts that could have been cut, such as page after page when the author just says 'this person was inspired by Al ...more
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Anne Boyd Rioux is passionate about the recovery off 19th-century women writers, many of whom have been unjustly forgotten. She is the author of MEG, JO, BETH, AMY: THE STORY OF LITTLE WOMEN AND WHY ITS STILL MATTERS (Aug. 2018, Norton), CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON: PORTRAIT OF A LADY NOVELIST, and editor of MISS GRIEF AND OTHER STORIES, (both Norton, 2016). She is a professor and writes books, rev ...more

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