Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

March 14, 2016 Civil War, Non Fiction 12

Greetings Bookworms!

I don’t typically read a lot of non fiction, which is a crying shame, really, considering there are some fabulous titles out there. Few things get my dander up more than the way women are written out of history and/or their contributions are glossed over. Blame it on the dual History and Women’s Studies minors. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott was an audio book offering I simply couldn’t pass up. When I try to read nonfiction with my eyeballs, my brain tends to get overloaded with facts and give up… Meaning I fall asleep. I don’t have a good reason for this, but audio works better for me.


Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War tells the stories of four different women participating in some seriously scandalous (for the time) activities. Elizabeth Van Lew was a staunch Unionist who found herself behind enemy lines when the Confederacy decided to make her hometown of Richmond into their capitol. Emma Edmonds felt the need to serve the Union so strongly that she cut off her hair and went undercover as a man to serve in the army. Of course, the Union didn’t have a monopoly on undercover ladies. Belle Boyd started the war off with a bang by shooting a Union soldier and then became a courier and spy for the Confederacy. And let’s not forget Rose O’Neale Greenhow, widowed socialite whose dalliances with high powered politicians put her in the perfect position to become the Queenpin of a spy ring for the Confederacy.

Guys, I learned SO MUCH from this book! The only one of these ladies I knew much about was Elizabeth Van Lew, thanks to good old historical fiction in The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini (review). Now, I’m no Civil War scholar. So much of this book was new information for me and I just gobbled it up. There was one thing though that really stuck with me. While reading this I kept being like “OMG General McClellan, you are really bad at war.” The North seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to military leadership. On paper, this war should not have been this hard to win or lasted this long or cost so many lives. I’m sure there are many varied and complex reasons for the war stretching on the way it did, but this was my takeaway. General warring ineptitude. This is why I should never, ever be used as a source in a research paper!

Talk to me Bookworms! What’s your favorite non fiction title? I might need to make a little reading list. For my ears.

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12 Responses to “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott”

  1. Megan M.

    This book catches my eye at the library all the time – it has such a fabulous title and cover! I’ve never checked it out, though, because I feel like I would just never get around to reading it. I do that a lot with library books. The most important thing to me with a nonfiction book (besides the subject matter) is the writing style. I like it to be engaging and conversational – not too dry. Mary Roach’s books are good examples.

  2. DoingDewey

    Haha, I also noticed a lot of ineptitude on the part of the North and perhaps some reluctance to engage and make it so the war was really happening too. I’m so glad you picked this up! Narrative nonfiction is my favorite 🙂

  3. Jenny @ Reading the End

    STICK WITH ME KID I will help you find all the nonfiction your little heart desires. Or if you just want to know something about something, tell me a book about that topic and I will read it and just report back the most interesting bits. But also, I want to help you love nonfiction. I yearn to do it, and I think I can! I gradually helped myself love nonfiction by just reading more and more of it over the years. Tell me some nonfiction books you DID like (or do it on Twitter, that is also fine), and then I will think of some nonfiction books I think you WILL like.

    Er, unless you only like nonfiction if it’s American history. I can’t help in that case. I hate American history. I only love Alexander Hamilton.

    • Words For Worms

      YASSSSSSSSSS! Okay, so, I like my non fic easy to read and fully of saucy tidbits. I like Mary Roach’s style, but science isn’t my jam so much as history, more specifically, women’s role in history (and no, definitely not American history centric here.) Like Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. That knocked my socks off. I await your listing with great anticipation. Although, making YOU read all the things and giving me Cliffs Notes versions (like your Bronte post) is awfully tempting.

  4. Kailana

    This sounds good. I have tried Karen Abbott before and ended up putting the book aside. It was a mood thing. I should try her again!

Talk to me, Bookworms!

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