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Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, the Woman Behind Cosmopolitan Magazine

3.2  ·  Rating details ·  245 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews

Read Jennifer Scanlon's blogs and other content on the Penguin Community.

"Scanlon's shrewed biography reveals a woman of contraditions...a strategically racy cultural pioneer."
- O, The Oprah Magazine

As the author of the revolutionary Sex and the Single Girl and the longtime editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown changed how women thought about sex
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 31st 2010 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I've been poaching a lot of books from The Hairpin's recommendations and this piqued my interest immediately. I suppose it was the title. But the book should really be called What We Talk About When We Talk About Why Helen Gurley Brown Is A Feminist. Cause damn, that is all we talked about. Some chapters read like term papers when what I wanted was the sizzle I used to associate with Cosmo pages.

Don't get me wrong -- I appreciated the argument that HGB played a large, often unnoticed or undocume
Oct 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of Helen Gurley Brown before and as someone who came of age in the 1990s, I had spent very little time thinking about feminism or the role of women in the US other than to occasionally feel grateful that it was never an issue for me. This book inspired me to really examine some of my views of the past and present. The basic question is whether Helen Gurley Brown (author of Sex and the Single Girl and editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan for 32 years) is truly a feminist or not.

She w
Sep 03, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I first started reading this book I mostly wanted to hear about how she became editor of Cosmo. However, as often happens, it what came before that turned out to be the most interesting. I had not realized how much her own experiences as a single woman, and becoming a champion for that generation, had shaped her into her iconic role. Nor did I know she had no formal training as an editor. The fact that she is mostly self-taught and became such a success through hard work, determination and ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is an academic treatise mysteriously packaged as a best seller. We have 200 pages of endless minutia on the life of HGB plus 40 pages of footnotes. We learn what clubs she joined in high school, about her acne, her weight and told (twice) that she was a thrifty while her husband was a big tipper. Far too much information. While the author makes a case that HGB was a feminist in a way - encouraging women to find self worth through work (along the lines of Betty Friedan)and - more than o ...more
May 27, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Helen Gurley Brown has had an amazing career and really impacted women's issues even before she was the editor of Cosmo. This book was written more like a thesis or research paper and it didn't do much to humanize a fascinating woman well ahead of her time. It was interesting to read how Helen's adolescence shaped who she became and the choices she makes but the book just came across as too clinical.
Jun 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dense (and poorly written) bio of a free thinker. What a woman!
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
really enjoyed, even if a few of the chapters read more like conference papers, and the subject came in and out of the picture. When she was there, she was very, very there.
T Campbell
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting subject, and the book is very good at placing Brown within the context of the time and culture in which she lived. Anyone who followed COSMOPOLITAN religiously for a while (whether for tips on fashion and, cough, relationships or just as a window into how others might think) would find this portrait of its founder intriguing. At times it gets a little scholarly, but it's refreshing to see a scholarly eye applied to someone whose life is mostly associated with quick listicles and sex ...more
Susan Grodsky
This book was worth my time, but just barely. It's a frustrating read. First because Jennifer Scanlon is not much of a prose stylist. She hasn't quite gotten the concept of one thought per sentence so she'll pile several disparate concepts together before adding the period. Reading as marathon running. :(

She is also extremely repetitious. How often do we need to hear that Brown is by nature optimistic? Or that she's a hard worker? Or that her brand of feminism focuses on the individual rather th
Kristen Northrup
This would be a great choice for an ambitious book club, because I spent a lot of time going "Yes, but..." and frustrated that there was no one around to actually discuss it with. I did read Sex and the Single Girl about a year ago. The academic defending-a-thesis tone isn't too heavy, although it leads to some distractingly odd (ivory tower?) statements (by the author, not by Brown) about things like why women dye their hair, what is a healthy daily calorie count, and what a grain elevator does ...more
Nov 19, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I made it halfway but this book is due back at the library tomorrow and I decided that I just don't care enough to finish it. The writing isn't great: it's often repetitive, and some parts (indeed, whole chapters) don't add much to the story of Helen Gurley Brown (HGB)'s life. Also, the nickel-tour of second-wave feminism is what I'd expect from a high school student, not a scholar: I rolled my eyes a LOT. And you'd never know nonwhite feminists existed, except for a few throwaway lines and a co ...more
Like many books I've been reading lately, this one came from a reading list I made several years back. So I didn't really know what I was getting into. Short version: it's sort of a biography, and sort of a book about a book (which I've never read) Sex and The Single Girl. Which turned out to be really interesting.

I went to college just around the time third wave feminism was hitting, and while I'm vaguely familiar with major players in the second-wave - and of course I read Cosmo - I really had
Aug 08, 2010 rated it liked it
As a straightforward biography, this was good, and it was amazing to see how Helen Gurley Brown came from nothing to become a writer and the editor of a major magazine. That being said, I found I wanted much more critical analysis of Helen Gurley Brown's feminism, but what I got was Scanlon quoting her (again and again and again) as Gurley Brown says, "no really, I'm a feminist, Cosmopolitan is a feminist magazine, seriously" which was not enough.

I also wanted to read more on Gurley Brown's imp
Mary McCoy
Jul 29, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're a fan of Mad Men, this is the perfect book to read before the new season starts. Author of Sex and the Single Girl (1962), and longtime editor of Cosmo, HGB comes out a cross between Joan and Peggy. She's part the adventurous sexpot who manages to negotiate affairs in the workplace, manipulate the boys' game to suit herself, and still come out looking professional. And she's part the driven, hard-working, creative career girl, hoping to get to the corner office by virtue of her brains. ...more
May 14, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, biographies
I found Scanlon's claims to be untenable at times, particularly in regards to arguments that Helen Gurley Brown was a founding member of the second wave feminist movement (she attempts to do so by pointing out that Brown's book "Sex & the Single Girl" came out a year before Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique"). I agree that Brown was a woman who was bending the rules, but it seems to me that she still generally kept within the confines of social norms. She wanted to bend the rules, not b ...more
Apr 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those of us that spent high school/college in the 70's and 80's, this book is a must read about a fascinating woman at the forefront of the "woman's lib" movement. Love her or hate her (I love her) it's an interesting view of the times and what made her so successful. It does read a bit too much like a doctoral thesis for me, but so fun to revisit the issues and see how far we've come (or not, as the case may be). She stood up to rabid feminists, (who still deny they set the movement back wi ...more
Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Helen Gurley Brown is more interesting than the book itself. The book's thesis is encapsulated in this sentence: "Helen Gurley Brown...invited in to feminism another important but often invisible group, working-class women, largely but by no means exclusively white, whose goals included financial independence, the freedom to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, and the enjoyment of, rather than a rejection of, the fruits of capitalism. Interesting thesis, and one which Scanlon proves r ...more
Niki Wilson
Jul 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I ran across Jennifer Scanlon’s Bad Girls Go Everywhere, I thought I knew Helen Gurley Brown. The magazine and the woman at it’s helm had attained mythical status. The powerful, yet sexually charged cover photos by Francesco Scavullo, the provocative titles, and it’s small dark, helmet-haired editor-in-chief were such a part of my personal female history that I couldn’t imagine there was anything I didn’t already know. I was delightfully proven wrong. This is not only a great biography abou ...more
Marisa Bowe
This woman did a lot of research about the wonderful Helen Gurley Brown, and contributes greatly to understanding why she was great and important. But boy, does this book ever cry out for an editor, as well as a copy editor. I agree with the criticisms other readers have made, that it reads like a thesis and beats its points into your skull over and over and over. I've also never read a published book with so many repetitions. However, as I've always adored HGB's books (never could get into Cosm ...more
Carol Littlejohn
Nov 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helen Gurley Brown is the "inventor" of the Cosmo Girl from Cosmopolitan magazine and author of 1962's book "Sex and the Single Girl." Practically everyone knows that, but what you might not know is that Helen Gurley Brown had a great deal to do with the rise of feminism. The author contrasts her life with Betty Friedan (writer of "The Feminine Mystique") since they both are contemporaries. Brown represented the single (and underpaid) uneducated woman; Friedan represented the well-educated house ...more
May 25, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Whether you find HGB inspiring or uninspiring, and I'm not sure which camp I'm in myself, this book reads like a college thesis that no one bothered to edit. The author, a clear fan of HGB, includes every mundane detail of HBG's life (never once calling her anything other than her complete and full name "Helen Gurley Brown") and then just repeats and repeats and repeats her thesis until you're so sick of it, you can barely soldier on to the next paragraph. I suspect it will make for interesting ...more
Sep 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
I hate to admit it but Scanlon's take on Gurley Brown as a feminist pioneer rings true. At the time I didn't think of her as a sister but after reading Scanlon I see that I was hung up on feminist orthodoxy. Gurley Brown does deserve recognition and I'm delighted that she is getting it while she is still alive (84?). The positive and negative here is that the author is an academic. Her analysis is superb but, sadly, the book isn't fun. As hard as Gurley Brown worked (and still does) she is the o ...more
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book should have been a long Vanity Fair article. Once you know she was for some, a feminist ahead of her time or in the eyes of others, retrograde and damaging to the women's movement, that's it.
no juicy gossip here, as it's a biography and not an autobiography and she hasn't really interviewed the author, but gone over her personal papers on file at smith college. I wouldn't recommend it, but some interesting discussion of the history of the feminist movement, and the differences between
After providing details about Brown's childhood and early work history, the book headed into more sociological territory, marking Brown as a founder of the second wave of feminism. There were general comments about how she guided Cosmopolitan but no real details. For instance, I was very interested in how they came to the decision to do the centerfold! The last chapter seemed thrown together, focusing more on her weight than on her continued accomplishments.
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I avoid "fashion magazines," but gained a lot of respect for Helen Gurley Brown, best known as long time editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. The author crafted an excellent biography, especially given it wasn't a project commissioned by the subject herself. At times it felt like a university paper defending Helen Gurley Brown's identity as a feminist more than a biography, which made me look deeper into what feminism is, for me. This is one of the better biographies I've read.
An interesting biography of an interesting, talented and spirited woman: longtime Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown. I found the dialogue around feminism thought-provoking, particularly Helen's identification of herself as a feminist, and Cosmo as a feminist magazine, despite some strong views to the contrary from other feminists. She is an interesting character, and her story is instructive. A piece of history.
Jun 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think that Jennifer Scanlon successfully makes the argument that HGB was a feminist, although I continue to believe that she was a capitalist above all. Still, this book is a fascinating look at the life of a very fascinating lady. I enjoyed reading it with Sex and the Single Girl and would suggest doing the same.
Kaitlyn Wb
I liked what I read of this one pretty well, although it was VERY clear that it was written by an academic, who kept hounding the point that HGB was a feminist even if she was ignored by other 2nd wave feminists and liked sex. I did not finish this one before I had to bring it back to the library.
Feb 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So inspiring. I learned so much about Helen Gurley Brown and her life by reading this book that I found myself bringing her up in casual conversation. A well-researched portrait of my new professional idol.
Mar 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best biographies I've read. Seriously! More academic than the title lets on, the book incorporates traditional biographic-style material into the larger story of feminism as it unfolded during Helen Gurley Brown's life. Very interesting.
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