Summary and book reviews of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

by Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 544 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 528 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

Karen Abbott tells the stories of four courageous women - a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow - who were spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women - a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow - who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O'Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies' descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

From Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

The Fastest Girl in Virginia
(or Anywhere Else for That Matter)

The Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

In the town of Martinsburg on the lower tip of the Valley, a seventeen-year- old rebel named Belle Boyd sat by the windows of her wood-frame home, waiting for the war to come to her. It was July 4 and the war was still new, only two and a half months old, but Belle—known by one young rival as "the fastest girl in Virginia or anywhere else for that matter"—had long been accustomed to things operating on her schedule, and at her whim.

She tracked the progress of Union forces as they stormed down from the North, all those boys sweating and filthy under blue wool coats, lean as the rifles slung at their sides—nearly fifteen thousand of them, a few as young as thirteen, away from their mothers for the very first time. She felt they had no respect at all, waving American flags with the stars of thirty-four states ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is quite simply a fun excursion into an obscure aspect of the Civil War that deserves a wide audience. Abbott's ability to present her subject in an entertaining yet informative manner makes this one a winner. It's sure to delight history buffs and readers interested in women's studies alike, as well as those who simply enjoy delving into a great, fast-paced work of general non-fiction.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (981 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Abbott proceeds chronologically, navigating the historical record through quotes and personal detail.Remarkable, brave lives rendered in a fluidly readable, even romantic history lesson.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gripping... moving and fascinating... [Abbott] brings these individuals fully to life.

Author Blurb Erik Larson, bestselling author of Devil in the White City
With this book, Karen Abbott declares herself the John le Carré of Civil War espionage - with the added benefit that the saga she tells is all true and beautifully researched.

Author Blurb Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove
Karen Abbott's powerful narrative is first rate American history about a fascinating, little-known chapter of the Civil War, as well as a compulsive, thrilling saga of espionage. Brilliant storytelling, highly accessible, and impossible to put down.

Author Blurb Michael Korda, NY Times bestselling biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and T. E. Lawrence
Abbott…[reveals] in such vivid detail the extraordinary lives of women who involved themselves so dangerously in the Civil War. This is that rare work of history that reads like a novel - and a really good one at that - and in which the truth is more thrilling than fiction.

Author Blurb Amanda Foreman, author of the award-winning best sellers Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: A Epic History of Two Nations Divided
Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy by Karen Abbott is a masterpiece of narrative storytelling, backed by impeccable research and extraordinary material. I was gripped by every page.

Author Blurb Lydia Netzer, author of the New York Times notable book Shine Shine Shine
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a masterwork of suspenseful plots and unforgettable characters rendered in exacting, gorgeous detail-a brilliant new take on the heroines and villainesses of the Civil War.

Author Blurb Robert Hicks, New York Times bestselling author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country
With Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbott has taken history and written it with the eloquence of good fiction. Halfway through her book, I decided Ian Fleming could not have invented better spies…nor have written about them with any more suspense.

Reader Reviews

FictionZeal

from FictionZeal.com re: Liar, Temptress Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
As a woman, what would make you go to war in 1861? To be beside your husband? Pure loyalty to the cause? Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy delves into the history of four courageous women who took part in the Civil War. High spirited seventeen-year-...   Read More

FictionZeal

from FictionZeal.com re: Liar, Temptress Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott
As a woman, what would make you go to war in 1861? To be beside your husband? Pure loyalty to the cause? Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy delves into the history of four courageous women who took part in the Civil War. High spirited seventeen-year-...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

More Civil War Women Fighters

In addition to the four women profiled by Karen Abbott in Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, many others had well-documented military careers. Some of these famous female soldiers include:

Frances Clalin Frances Clalin enlisted as Jack Williams. A Minnesota farmer's wife and mother of three, Clalin signed up to be with her husband, Elmer. Her fellow soldiers considered her a "hard-drinking, tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed son of a gun" who was also an outstanding horseman, deadly with a sword and an expert poker player. She fought in 18 battles, was wounded three times and taken prisoner once. When Elmer was killed a few feet in front of her at the Battle of Stones River on December 31, 1862, legend has it that she stepped over his body and charged when ...

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