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Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,471 ratings  ·  327 reviews
A vivid, energetic account of the life of Louisa May Alcott, whose work has delighted millions of readers

Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcotts life: the effect of her fathers self-indulgent utopian schemes; her familys chronic economic difficulties and frequent
Hardcover, 363 pages
Published October 27th 2009 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published January 1st 2009)
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Kressel Housman
In 1994, the year I was a seminary student in Israel, the one and only movie I saw in a theater was Little Women. Some of my classmates treated me for my birthday, but it could have been any of our birthdays or even nobodys birthday at all. We went because we grew up loving Little Women and because it still fit perfectly with who we were. Though it was the 90s, we were all committed to abstinence until marriage, which means the March sisters were more like us than any other movie heroines. I ...more
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Woman is a very detailed biography of Louisa May Alcott, in addition to a history of an incredibly interesting time in America.

While reading this book I felt as though I was transported back to the New England of the 19th Century. Harriet Reisen's descriptions of LMA, her parents, sisters, and many of their relatives and friends were just fascinating, especially the Alcott family's involvement in the Transcendentalist Movement and abolitionism. Louisa
Jennifer (JC-S)
Dec 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Woman behind Little Women

This is a well written and enjoyable biography of Louisa May Alcott. By providing a chronological account of the lives of the Alcotts, it is much easier to appreciate both the times in which they lived and the influences that shaped their lives.

The first part of the book focuses mainly on Louisas parents Abigail May and Bronson Alcott and their friends. As their friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne this is both interesting and
Dec 30, 2010 rated it liked it
This is an engaging, easy to read book about Louisa May Alcott. I am not in a position to judge the author's scholarship, but I found it a fascinating entry into the world of not only the Transcendentalists but also Boston's upper crust in the 19th century.

I have two critiques of the book.

1. No pictures ! Not a single photograph, portrait, reproduction of a letter, nothing! Would it have been so hard to add a copy of George Healy's famous portrait of LMA? There is a reference to this portrait
The Library Lady
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-biography
Reisen seems to believe that she has something new to say about Alcott, but aside from a few quotes I haven't read before, there is little her that hasn't been told and told more movingly by other Alcott biographers of recent times.
Moreover, if Reisen did so much research for the excellent documentary she did for American Masters and for this book, why does she make so many niggling errors about the books.Here are three whoppers:

1)In "Little Men" she says that JO has twins,Daisy and Demi who are
Jan 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
It was refreshing to dive into the life of a such a strong and forceful personality. It was Louisa's incredible drive that led her to success and fame, no doubt about it.
She was pretty hilarious and quite a few of her acerbic observations gave me a good laugh. What I wonder the most is her tenacious hold on Duty and what Duty ended up costing her. We don't use the term at all now but Duty was the maintain of the Victorian woman's life and Louisa's life ended up being no different on that
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was so interesting! I did not realize what a sad life Louisa led. Her father was a drifter who couldnt hold down a job so at a young age she realized she needed to be the breadwinner. She provided for her family, lost two sisters in death and her health was terrible. But throughout her life the one thing that remained consistent was her love of writing. ...more
Aug 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-female
Just reading about Louisa May Alcott made me tired. I would have to say that she was truly a devoted person to her family, friends, and to herself. With regards to her writing, she set her goals and completely finished them on time.

Her father Bronson Alcott, born in Connecticut in 1799, was (to say the least) a self-centered, odd individual. Bronson was raised on a farm, and decided to be a vegan because he believed that animals should not be oppressed, and that killing them for any purpose is
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen

"Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" is a fascinating biography into the life of the author of the classic "Little Women," and also an in-depth look at her family. Reisen provides an extremely complete picture of Louisa's unusual childhood, and how it influenced her later publications.

The beginning of the book focuses on her father, Bronson Alcott, an unusual man for his time; he was one of the early
Leslie Goddard
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
The best thing about this book is how readable it is. Reisen doesn't try to puff up her credibility with stilted academ-ese and that is a great relief for any non-academic reader. She does a nice, clear, clean job explaining complicated issues such as how to translate a certain sum of money in the 1860s-1870s to its modern-day equivalent.

And there is some terrific new stuff here, especially from the notes for interviews done with Alcott's niece Lulu describing the unfortunate grab for money by
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: women, fans of Little Women
Shelves: biography

After a slow start, this biography of Louisa May Alcott became great. Her early life was comparable to the childhoods of hippie kids from the 1960s and 1970s. The family moved constantly, were always broke and in debt to friends and extended family. Mr Alcott was a dreamer, impractical and chronically unable to make a living. He started several schools but they all failed as the Puritan families of the day found his methods much too progressive. Alcott's educational ideas reminded me of
Jul 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Harriet Reisen has written an excellent biography that was on Wall Street Journal's Ten Best Books of 2009. Louisa May Alcott was part of the American Bloomsbury group that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She also grew up knowing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes (what is it with these middle names?), and Henry James and other famous writers, poets, and artists.

Louisa was tremendously loyal to her family working hard to
Nov 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: won-in-giveaways
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women is a lovingly crafted, meticulously researched biography by Harriett Reisen. I received my copy from a GoodReads First Reads drawing. As a Little Women fan from childhood, I was thrilled to receive the book and was not disappointed. I learned a great deal about Louisa and was surprised to find that much of Little Women was taken from people and experiences in her own life, although highly idealized. My only complaint with this book is that it ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
When I was about ten, my grandmother sent me a copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The next year, my mom bought me a copy of Eight Cousins, or The Aunt Hill, followed by a mission to the library to find its sequel, Rose in Bloom. All three of those books were certainly fun to read (Rose Campbell's stories), and very moving (Little Women, but it wasn't until a few years later that I became very interested in Louisa May Alcott as an author. That was when I received a copy of A Marble Woman: ...more
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, writers, alcott
Harriet Reisin gives a new rendering of the life of the writer/creator of my most beloved childhood stories. Reisin's book compares favorably with the Pulitzer Prize winning "Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father" in that it has more information and therefore provides a more complete picture.

For most bios, a childhood is told in 20-30 pages. Not so, here. Louisa's childhood covers almost 1/3 of the book. Bronson Alcott has been treated well in other accounts, but here
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'm not much for biographies, but Louisa May Alcott is special. I remember watching "Little Women" with my mother, grandmother, and aunt when I was a young girl, the version with June Allyson as Jo. I loved it. Not much later, I read the book, as well as reading Little Men. Again, loved them. So when this book was mentioned in "Library Journal" I immediately requested it from the library and read it in a weekend.

Harried Reisen has done years of research on Alcott and her family, and it
Corinne Edwards
Talk about someone who lived an amazing life. I'm not usually a biography reader, but something about Louisa and the world she grew up in intrigued me - and rightly so. This very readable book tells Louisa's story from beginning to end, weaving in her writings as well as pertinent historical information that fleshes out the scene of her days.

Growing up with Emerson and Thoreau as surrogate uncles, the Concord and Boston of Louisa's day is the stuff of legend. What I really enjoyed about this
Feb 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Before reading this biography, I had no idea about Alcotts background and how much she based her writings on her own life, or that those writings included novels and stories for adults and pulp fiction as well as her better-known childrens works. Not surprisingly, she was an imaginative, competitive, energetic, adventurous (even wild) tomboythe Jo of Little Women. Her parents were loving, but her idealistic father could not support his wife and four daughters, and they often went hungry. Yet ...more
Gemma (Non Fic Books)
An enjoyable enough read about the interesting and unusual life of a much-beloved author. LM Alcott's upbringing was odd and unsettling, moving every few months and bouncing between relative comfort and extreme poverty. Her journey to support herself and her family with her writing shows the sheer force of her personality though it is clear that she would also have been a difficult woman to deal with for those near her.

On the cover there is a quote from the Wall Street Journal stating that LM
Dec 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
How much of "Little Women" and other Alcott favorites is based on reality? That's one of the questions Reisen tries to answer. Far more interesting than that issue is the life of Alcott herself. Many a person may identify with her situation, as the only wage-earner, from her teens to death, in a family of ne'er-do-wells and inadequates and entitleds. She and her sisters lived in hunger much of their youth, and, as children, depended heavily on hand-me-downs and hand-outs. I don't know whether ...more
Feb 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Like many young girls, I read and loved Little Women, and new that it was based largely on the author's life. As an English major in college, her father Bronson was frequently footnoted as a member of the Transcendentalist Movement which included such luminaries as Emerson, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller. Until reading Reisen's fascinating biography, that was the total sum of my knowledge of Alcott's upbringing. Though Reisen is clearly a devoted fan of Alcott, the book paints an honest picture of ...more
Nov 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating account of an author whose life I knew nothing about. I found the first part of the book, dealing with Alcott's unconventional upbringing amid her dotty father's Transcendentalist circle, to be particularly interesting. Once Alcott became a literary sensation whose efforts supported her impecunious relations, I found the biography less absorbing. Perhaps that was unavoidable under the circumstances, however, as Alcott after she became famous seems to have lived an exemplary but ...more
Jul 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Louisa May Alcott! Who knew!
Trix Wilkins
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a compelling read. I had originally planned to muse over this book throughout the month of the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge. What actually happened was: book in hand at 11am, read it through lunch, read after dinner, then after going to bed could not sleep so got up at 11pm and kept reading until I finished it at an unmentionable hour (suffice to say I went immediately for coffee after school drop-offs).

Harriet Reisen's The woman behind Little Women is a brilliantly written and
I knew nothing about LMA - just that she wrote some of my favorite children's books. Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys to name them all. The details of her life are known to us through extensive journals the entire Alcott family kept as well as copious letters they wrote to each other. Her parents are extremely interesting, and they knew a lot of famous people in Concord, MA including Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

One area in
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This title successfully accomplished what I hope for all biographies: it put me in the time and place of the subject, made her seem real (through her own words and through the observations of her contemporaries), and made me have a much richer understanding of what made Louisa May Alcott tick.
Its always interesting to me to see the American Dream in action: LMA grew up in extreme deprivation with a father unable to work (mental health issues most likely) and a mother who grew up too genteel to
Feb 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Fascinating information, but pretty dense, with quite a bit of repetition. Reads like a doctoral thesis.
Annalee Storey
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved learning about one of my favorite storytellers. Her life was in the service of her family. Fascinating and easy to read.
May 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This story behind the great author is a beautifully wrought and in-depth portrait that sweeps forward from her birth and through the landscape of her life, but also fills in the picture with details of her parents' lives as well.

In the context of what was going on historically, Louisa May Alcott's success is even more awesome. She grew up in a time where women were not yet given the voice. Later in her adulthood, she would jump onto that cause, as well, struggling to help women obtain the vote.

This was fascinating! I never knew anything about Alcott's upbringing and her lack of a proper childhood-home. The tumultuous move from place to place certainly never shines through her very homely novels.

Reading this book made me feel a tiny bit closer to one of my favorite authors. As I've never read a biography about Louisa May Alcott before, I cannot say whether Harriet Reisen provides any new information. I can however say that I was perfectly satisfied with what I got.

I am left in awe,
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Harriet Reisen's interest in Louisa May Alcott dates to her marathon reading of Alcotts eight childrens novels during a rainy spell one childhood summer. Over the past twenty years, what began as an idea for a film biography of Alcott developed into a passion for the subject herself. A former fellow in screenwriting at the American Film Institute, Reisen has written dramatic and historical ...more

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