Stealing Athena: Book summary and reviews of Stealing Athena by Karen Essex

Stealing Athena

By Karen Essex

Stealing Athena
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2008,
    464 pages.

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Book Summary

The Elgin Marbles have been displayed in the British Museum for nearly two hundred years, and for just as long they have been the center of a raging controversy. In Stealing Athena, Karen Essex chronicles the Marbles' amazing journey through the dynamic narratives of Mary Nisbet, wife of the Earl of Elgin, the British ambassador to Constantinople, and Aspasia, the mistress of Perikles, the most powerful man in Athens during that city’s Golden Age.

At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the twenty-one-year-old, newly wed Countess of Elgin, a Scottish heiress and celebrated beauty, enchanted the power brokers of the Ottoman Empire, using her charms to obtain their permission for her husband's audacious plan to deconstruct the Parthenon and bring its magnificent sculptures to England. Two millennia earlier, Aspasia, a female philosopher and courtesan, and a central figure in Athenian life, plied her wits, allure, and influence with equal determination, standing with Perikles at the center of vehement opposition to his vision of building the most exquisite monuments the world had ever seen.

Rich in romance and intrigue, greed and glory, Stealing Athena is an enthralling work of historical fiction and a window into the intimate lives of some of history’s most influential and fascinating women.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Essex shines light on the women who inspired and protected some of the greatest art ever created, and the men who exploited them." - Publishers Weekly.

"A lively expose of double standards in two societies that prided themselves on democratic ideals and respect for women." - Kirkus Reviews.

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Linda
Bogged Down in Details
I am a huge fan of historical fiction, so I was really looking forward to this book. Unfortunately I struggled with this book for over a month. Some of the passages were so detailed I lost interest in the point of the chapter. I found the story of Mary and Robert Elgin more engrossing than the Aspasia/Perikles story set in Ancient Greece, but in general didn't care very much for most of the characters in the two stories, they just didn't 'feel' like flesh and blood people to me. I usually enjoy reading books that have stories set in two different eras, but the back and forth in this book was often jarring. Although I wouldn't consider this a bad book, I was disappointed in it.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Linda
All of the Marbles
I enjoyed reading about two strong women, whose connection to the Elgin marbles and their accomplishments, were somehow lost in the maze of history. The book gives us a better understanding of the role played by Britain in saving the marbles but I still believe they belong in Greece. This is a wonderful book for any literary book club and for anyone who has a love of history. Personally, I would like to view the Marbles once more with this book as a background.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Valerie
Great
For me, Stealing Athena's strongest point is the excellent female characters. These two women are strong, independent, intelligent, and struggling with the restraints placed on them by male dominated societies. On a broader scale, this is excellent historical fiction, done in an unusual, to me at least, manner. There are two story lines, with two female protagonists, joined by the Greek art and history, but separated by centuries. It's interesting how so little changed in female freedom/repression during the many centuries these two story lines represent.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Sharon
History Book with Dialogue
This is a novel about the removal of classic sculpture and art from the Greek Parthenon in the early nineteenth century. Lord and Lady Elgin, while serving as ambassadors to the Ottoman Empire, excavated and removed dozens of pieces and shipped them to England to save them from further deterioration and ruin. They are still displayed in British museums and are known as the Elgin Marbles.

Although the book is very informative, switching back and forth in time between the original building of the Parthenon and design of the sculptures to their later removal, it made for tedious reading. None of the characters are very likable. Information about the marbles found on the Internet was much more interesting and easier to read.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Jeanne
Could have been better
The story is interesting especially as it pertains to the lack of legal rights for women throughout history and the issues of removing antiquities from a country for personal gain. The book moves slowly in the beginning and the pace doesn't really pick up until the halfway point. The narrative is choppy in places as it moves between the Athens of 450 BC and early 19th century Turkey, Greece and Europe and the writing seems careless. The character of Mary Elgin seems fairly well fleshed out but Aspasia doesn't quite ring true.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Liz
Not very engaging
I did enjoy the historical fiction and the time period changes in this book, but it seemed to drag on and on. I liked the characters but found my thoughts wandering away from the story when I was reading.

...11 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Karen Essex Author Biography

Karen Essex is an award-winning novelist and journalist and a screenwriter. She is the author of the national and international best-selling novel, Leonardo’s Swans (Doubleday 2006), about the rivalries among the powerful women painted by the great master when he was employed by the Duke of Milan. She has also written two acclaimed biographical novels about the queen of Egypt, Kleopatra and Pharaoh, published in 2001 and 2002, which she adapted into a screenplay for Warner Bros. Essex also adapted Anne Rice’s novel The Mummy or Ramses the Damned into a screenplay for Titanic director James Cameron and 20th Century Fox, and has written a screenplay about Kamehameha, the first king of Hawaii, for Columbia/Tristar.

Essex’s articles, essays and profiles have ...

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