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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Sheesha on 11-12-14
Shockingly Bad Narrator
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
A different narrator would have helped a great deal. It's hard to understand how this style of narration could have been permitted. She reads in an artificially stilted cadence presumably meant to evoke a serious tone, and perhaps to signify direct quotations in the text. It is awful and completely distracting from the story.
How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?
A different narrator. It was often hard to follow the content due to the problems noted above with the narrator.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
By Erin - Audible on 10-07-14
What a freaking thrill ride. Karen Abbott found four of the most interesting and well-documented women in the Civil War and took off like a shot. One narcissist, two socialites, one cross-dresser, all spies.
I'm relatively knowledgeable about the American Civil War thanks to my father and the constant rehashing of the history from 4th grade through high school. Never before have I read something that gets so perfectly in depth about what the hell happened in Richmond. The microfocus on this particular city lends more depth and humanity to each person we meet--whether that's Pinkerton (mhmm, how did you think they started?) or Stonewall Jackson (yeah, he's there, too.)
It was a great look at how thoroughly incompetent some of the Union Generals were. This is less a history-written-by-the-winners... there's a lot of facepalming over McClellan.
Anyway, give it a listen.
The narrator, Karen White, was not great. 3 of 5 stars for her. She has the tendency to read in a stilted, serious "this is nonfiction" pattern, rather give way to the delightful narrative flow Abbott provided.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful