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

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  9,153 Ratings  ·  1,639 Reviews
Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become 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,
Hardcover, 513 pages
Published September 2nd 2014 by Harper (first published July 1st 2014)
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Four Civil War femme fatales? Yes, please.

This book is EVERYTHING!* It's like A League of Their Own had a lovechild with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and Doris Kearns Goodwin's (DKG) Team of Rivals seasoned with an extra dash of siren song. (Or does one not season children?)

Actually, it's hard to dream up a single concoction to represent all that is contained in Karen Abbott's Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy . It is a unique breed of narrative non-fiction, with dialogue taken from p
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Frank stepped forward. He was five foot six, two inches shorter than the average Union army recruit, solid but thin. He told the doctor he was nineteen years old, twenty come December. The doctor’s eyes skimmed his shoulders and back, torso and legs. He coiled his fingers around Frank’s wrist and lifted up his hand. He turned it over as if it were a tarot card, studying its nuances, noting the absence of calluses, the smooth palm, the slim and tapered fingers…[T]he doctor marked Frank Thompson ...more
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Karen Abbott's History of Four Women in the American Civil War

I am always on the women's side.-The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut

Whoever said history has to be dull? Well, when Newsweek Magazine asked one thousand Americans the same U.S. Citizenship Test questions required for an immigrant to gain United States Citizenship, 38% must have found it pretty dull stuff. They failed. Seventy percent couldn't tell you what the Constitution was. That's a pretty bleak look
Dec 22, 2014 marked it as dnf

I made it over halfway, but I give up.

To me, the most important aspect of nonfiction is that it be nonfiction. Unfortunately, writers of pop nonfiction usually go for the most sensational versions of the truth that they can find.

To my mind, this book falls into that trap. Abbott's book is clearly well-researched, but she tends to present as fact information from such dubious sources as the women's own memoirs or stories from Harper's Weekly. Since many of the women parleyed their life storie
When I say I want to read about interesting women, this is EXACTLY what I mean. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy tells the story of:
•BELLE BOYD : self proclaimed "Cleopatra of the Succession" and a real piece of work. Before the age of 20, Belle had already killed a man, become a spy for the Confederacy, and been arrested (for being a spy). Always on the lookout for a husband, and pathologically obsessed with Stonewall Jackson, Belle Boyd flirted and canoodled her way through the Civil War. I found
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
2 stars - Meh. Just ok.

The synopsis to this book promised a fascinating read and it does indeed start strong. Hearing the back story of the four main historical figures was very interesting. Unfortunately, once the introductions were over it became a dull, dry read, akin to reading history from a textbook.

The author mentions that all included dialogue is factual, based on her sources, and it seems that after doing so much research, she wanted to include every tedious event, quote and tidbit tha
Meg - A Bookish Affair
"Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" is a fantastic nonfiction narrative about four women and their daring undercover actions during the Civil War. In my own head, I typically don't think about women having a role in fighting the Civil War. We don't typically hear about them out on the battle field unless they are in a nursing role. This book sheds light on some of the bravery that women showed during the Civil War.

The Civil War definitely isn't my favorite historical event to learn about but with bo
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
I cannot help but visualize Belle Boyd as Erica Kane in crinolines. Her chapters inevitably had me laughing my head off.
Erin Lindsay McCabe
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book about 4 female Civil War spies was a must-read for me and was everything I'd hoped-- the final line of the epilogue leaving me with goosebumps (I'm not even kidding). I already knew about each of these women-- had even read parts of Rebel Rose's and all of Sarah Emma Edmonds' memoirs-- but I feel like I learned SO MUCH about them and the lengths that they and many others went through in pursuit of their ideals. Abbott gives a thorough, compelling, suspenseful account of each woman's li ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book examines the lives of four courageous women during the American Civil War: two for the Union and two for the Confederacy. On the side of the Union there's Emma Edmonds, a Canadian woman who disguised herself as a man and fought, nursed and spied for the Union. There's also Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Union supporter living in Richmond who dared use her personal resources to help escaped prisoners and pass on information to General Grant. Honorable mention to her friend and former slav ...more
Oct 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
this was a terrific read. it's very clear abbott has done tremendous research in creating this book, and the biographies and history are presented well in a very engaging style.

over the past year, i have been hearing more about women serving in the civil war, whether they went incognito, disguising themselves as men, or functioned as supporters and spies - there may be a mini-movement in publishing to get these stories some attention. novels like I Shall Be Near to You and Neverhome would be gre
Sep 30, 2014 rated it liked it
I *loved* Abbott's Sin in the Second City, so I put this book on hold the minute I heard it was going to be published. And I did enjoy it, especially as woman are so often overlooked in Civil War history (well, history in general) unless Scarlett O'Hara is present. But it felt a little fractured to me. It may have been the way it was told, jumping back and forth from story to story just when I getting immersed in one life. Partially, I thought it was too long, so all of Abbott's delightful snazz ...more
Sarah Beth
Aug 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins.

In this work of non-fiction, Abbott tells the story of four women who served as spies during the Civil War. Belle Boyd was a teenager when work broke out, and a hotheaded one at that. Belle became a spy for the Confederacy, seducing men to get them to tell all. Emma Edmonds ran away from home to avoid a forced marriage. To survive, she dressed as a man and joined the Union army, where she was eventually recruited to serve as a
I found this to be a highly readable and eye-opening account of the unsung role of four women "spies" in the Civil War. The narrative alternates between Emma and Elizabeth (both Union supporters), and Belle and Rose (Rebel sympathizers), and follows a chronological trajectory through the war and beyond. I recently read one of Karen Abbott's other books, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul which was teeming with interesting historical characters, ...more
This is the story of four different women and their contributions during the Civil War. This was a four star rating because, while the information and story was intriguing, it was confusing going back and forth between the stories and trying to figure out who's on what side.

All four women qualified as Liars and Spies, but my favorite was Emma, who wore a Union uniform and fought in battle in addition to delivering the mail. I liked that Emma and Elizabeth spent their time nursing soldiers back
Julianne (Outlandish Lit)
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
As someone who's super scared of nonfiction and who hates reading about wars, I was nervous about this book. But when I heard that Karen Abbott was coming to town, I decided it was time to give this book a chance. Everybody who has read it loved it and the subject matter certainly sounded interesting. Badass women undercover?? Sign me up. I've just always had trouble with history, for whatever reason. Abbott makes Civil War history so interesting and accessible, without dumbing it down. All of t ...more
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
This is the kind of NF I always love, yet struggle to find. Immersive and rich in the smaller historical details that may not ultimately affect the record but that brings its characters--and humanity--to life. (HOT TIP: If you are female attempting to pose as a male soldier, don't try to put pants on over your head. Immediate giveaway.)

I chose this for my book club's non-fiction round largely because of the Washington Post's odd review (below), but worried that the content itself might not lend
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Finished this 5 Star Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War in two marathon sessions. These women were just fascinating. Just great reading and very good history. I learned a lot about espionage in the Civil War. Emma's story was also excellent. Here is the definitive review by Mara and I can't improve on it:


Strongest recommendation!
Steven Z.
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
When I read a title that sounds like a John Le Carre novel, I am always intrigued. Karen Abbott’s new book, LIAR TEMPTRESS SOLDIER SPY: FOUR WOMEN UNDERCOVER IN THE CIVIL WAR has many elements of the espionage master’s work and she weaves a series of wonderful stories into a historical narrative that could pass for fiction. The book Abbott has written explores the role of women during the Civil War, an area that has not been addressed sufficiently by historians. Her work is less about the contri ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a very readable book about four women during the American Civil War. Abbott choses two women from the Union and two from the Confedracy. Why these four is somewhat unclear - perhaps the least well known is Elizabeth van Lew or Emma Edmonds. Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow are more well known.

And I think that is the what stops this book from being a five star. It is unclear why these four women - is it to bring little known stories to the fore, okay but Belle Boyd is not obscure (and if you
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xmas2015, nonfiction
I was completely entertained; best time I’ve had reading a history book! Abbott gives that extra hundred pages of personality that all of my Erik Larson reads have lacked.

Frank Thompson/Emma Edmondson
A Union soldier, nurse, and spy. There were as many as 400 women, on both sides, posing and fighting as men.

Rose Greenhow
DC socialite ran a Confederate spy ring in the Union capital and later became the first American woman to represent her country abroad.

Elizabeth Van Lew
Ran a Union spy ring i
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy follows four women’s efforts to help their respective sides during the course of the Civil War and fight alongside men breaking gender norms of the time. The women Belle Boyd, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, Elizabeth Van Lew and Emma Edmonds each have a unique story and the author keeps a fast pace making this book a page turner.

Belle Boyd was living in what is now West Virginia and a supporter of the south when Union soldiers came into the town to occupy. Upon entering the
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to El by: The Roundtable
About five years ago I read They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. It was a fine book, but on the dry end. What was exciting to me was the discussion of women in a position that was filled primarily by men, and the education most of us receive in schools about the American Civil War keep women out of the lectures pretty much entirely, except when talking about women in a feminine role during the war (nurses, teachers, prostitutes, mothers, sisters, wives, etc. etc.).

The realit
I've lived the north and south of the Civil War aftermath: born and raised in the DC area, moved to a border state (home of the Dred-Scott decision for most of my adolescence, and then settled here in the South for the past 40 or so years. There are many aspects, besides the politics of the war, that I find fascinating. The fierce loyalty some folks have for their homeland, for instance, or the burning desire to fight for their personal beliefs. To me, fighting means taking an intellectual stand ...more
Hannah • So Obsessed With
The book doesn't really delve into all the intricacies of the war, but I felt like I saw a completely new side of it because of these women. Abbott's writing makes this read like a novel for the most part, which I loved. If you're looking for a more scholarly examination of the Civil War, this might not be right for you. But I think most readers will really appreciate the way Abbott makes history come alive!

I made myself read this one a little more slowly so that I could fully appreciate all the
Nov 18, 2014 rated it liked it
I found this book somewhat confusing. I guess I should have brushed up on my American Civil War knowledge , before reading this nonfiction account of four women , two from each side who are the Liar, Temptress, Soldier, and Spy. Actually most of these ladies fit more than one description. For the Union side , we had Emma Edwards, my favorite of the bunch, who disguised as a man actually joined the troops, also Elizabeth Van Lew, who used her wealth , and the help of her former slave Mary Jane Bo ...more
Denise Mullins
Dec 13, 2015 rated it did not like it
What a disappointment!I make it a point to completely read any book borrowed, but in this case, I admit defeat. The voice and tone of this book are totally inappropriate. Ms Abbott seems committed to using a brutally plain rhetoric that she then combines into a syrupy Blanche Dubois phrasing that really rankles. Moreover, many fascinating facts and details are clumsily lumped into a clothesline of events that becomes numbing and loses all emotional impact. This book seems more like a cut and pas ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Four stars: A fascinating and informative look at the lives of four women who influenced the Civil War.

The Civil War is the most studied period in American History. During this tumultuous time, the country was torn apart. Brother fought brother, as Americans took up arms against one another. It was a period of great loss and turmoil. While men fought at the front, women were making their own sacrifices and contributions. In this book, you get the stories of four different and remarkable women.
I was so excited to hear about the premise of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. I couldn't wait to read it. And while I had some quibbles with the author's writing style, I mostly enjoyed this book very much and learned so much from it, about the American Civil War in general and the active roles of women in that conflict specifically. I had no idea that women had played such active roles, not only in combat, but also in espionage and politics, so reading this story was a delightful surprise in tha ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Wow: I loved this, and I am so over reading about the American Civil War. But, really, what could be better than a detailed and exciting nonfiction account of four women who played key roles in the war? This book combines the best of both worlds: the perspective and historical background of nonfiction with the narrative suspense of fiction, all while relating the accounts of four larger-than-life figures I'd never heard of. I call that a win.

The book, consisting of 430 pages in hardcover not cou
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Karen Abbott's latest book, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause. The new book will be published by HarperCollins on September 2, 2014. Abbott's previous books, Sin in the Second City and American Rose, were both New York Times bestsellers. Abbott is a featured contributor to Smithsonian mag ...more
“It is so delightful to be of enough consequence to be arrested,” 11 likes
“War, like politics, was men’s work, and women were supposed to be among its victims, not its perpetrators. Women’s loyalty was assumed, regarded as a prime attribute of femininity itself,” 6 likes
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