11.19.2014

Book Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War

Author: Karen Abbott

Publisher/Price: Harper / $17.70 here

Type: Nonfiction

Genre: American History, Civil War

Number of pages: 528

My rating: 5 1/2 out of 5 stars

Overview: In this book, Karen Abbott explores a side of the Civil War that is mostly unknown, or at least, unnoticed.  She lays out the lives of four women who became spies in the Civil War: two Confederate women and two Northern women.  One a farm girl dressed up as a man to escape a forced marriage, another a socialite who used her charm to seduce men into telling her what she needed, a third an abolitionist who was the head of a huge underground pro-Union movement in Richmond, and finally, a mother and widow who fights for her cause until she gives her life for it.  Abbott tells the extraordinary story of these four women in such a way that the passion of these women cannot help but affect the reader.

My thoughts: Honestly, I'm not real sure where to begin with this one.  I'm not being melodramatic when I say that this is the best book I've read all year – definitely one of my top 10 ever.  Maybe even top 5.  I was blown away.  I read it in a Saturday on my bed all sprawled out, in a completely different world.  A world where normal people, average women, gave up their average, normal lives to make a lasting difference on the outcome of a war, to change the world.

If you were to ask me what I'm inspired by right now, my answer would be bravery.  Brave people doing incredibly hard things.  That started several months ago, with another book "Let's All Be Brave" and it hit me again when I read LTSS.  Here are the true stories of women who gave up everything for a cause they believed in with their whole beings.  They had such a passion and a conviction for their cause, they were willing to give their lives – that level of devotion has never been foreign to me, but somehow, it struck me so powerfully this time.  Emma Edmonds, the farm girl who became Frank Thompson and ran from home to escape a forced marriage felt called by God to enlist in the army and fight for the North.  She could have argued that she was a woman, had no place in an army of men where death was a very realistic danger.  I can't imagine having that level of commitment to a calling to give up every bit of everything I know.

Even when the women didn't have the same beliefs as I did, even when they were fighting for the wrong side, that in no way lessened my incredible respect for them – they believed just as strongly and fought just as fiercely for their cause as the women on the other side.  All four of the women in this book made a significant impact on the course of the war – their actions often shaped battles, courses of action, etc.

I don't have much else to say except that this book was/is incredibly inspiring.  I get so blown away by brave people doing hard things, whether I agree with those things or not.  I have endless respect for those who are willing to give everything for what they believe.  Like Emma Edmonds, I hope that someday I have a calling I am so passionate about, everything is worth it to follow whatever that calling is.

To finish up, I'll quickly comment on the more superficial aspects of LTSS.  It's one of those amazing historical nonfiction books that reads like a novel – except everything's true – which makes it so much better.  Karen Abbott is an amazing writer, the kind of writer whose writing doesn't sound like writing – the best kind in the opinion of Roy Peter Clark – the kind of writing that allows you to focus on the story, the people instead of sorting out what she's trying to say.  She switches flawlessly between the stories of each of the four women, often leaving you hanging at the end of each part.  Never once did I get bored with the book, or even want to put it down.  I thoroughly enjoyed every little bit, and this is making me want to go read it all over again.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy amazed me in the best way.  I was left feeling like I wanted to do something big, make a difference, change the world.  Each woman's story completely blew me away and I have so much respect for each of them.  They made a huge impact on the Civil War, and at least for this girl, they're still making an impact today.  I would recommend this book to everyone.  Everyone needs to read it.  Period.

I hope you enjoyed that review.  Up next is another round of "This Girl Pins" on Friday.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

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