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Reader! Reader!

Literary fiction, classics, dystopian, history, memoir, prize winners, and of course the 1001 books. You really might catch me reading anything!

Currently reading

Empire of Cotton: A Global History
Sven Beckert
Progress: 220/656 pages

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War - Karen Abbott

Abbott looks at 4 women who served their respective countries during the Civil War: Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow of the Confederacy, and Emma Edmonds and Elizabeth Van Lew of the US. While Edmonds was the soldier and Van Lew certainly a spy--I am not clear on who was the Liar and the Temptress, because Boyd and Greenhow both acted as spies as well. And post-Civil War, Edmunds was certainly a bit of a Liar.

So this book is interesting, though it jumps around a lot. Too much. Four pages on this woman, then 4 on that. Then 8 here, but we'll put 2 women in this one! It was not always obvious upon starting a chapter who it would be discussing.

But really, I found the most interesting person in the book to be Mary Jane Bowser, the freed slave Van Lew educated and placed as a servant in Jefferson Davis' household. Why hasn't a book been written about her? Photographic memory. Well educated though southerners assumed, having been born a slave, she was not. The perfect spy, right there in Davis household, supplying so much vital info. But did she? On p 449 in the notes Abbott admits her actual role, position, and importance to Van Lew's ring is unknown and circumstantial (and she gives little evidence in the notes). Was David really suspicious of a spy in his midst? Was she really a spy in his household? Did she really have a photographic memory?  Or is Abbott just playing loosey goosey with known facts and not writing good history (she is a journalist....).

**And here is my standard pet peeve about the lack of footnotes/endnotes noted in the text itself. I hate hate hate the page-number listed notes in the back. So hard to refer to effectively.