Shelf Control #262: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

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Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Author: Karen Abbott
Published: 2014
Length: 513 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

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, 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.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & white photos and 3 maps. 

How and when I got it:

I bought a Kindle edition at least 5 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I seem to have a backlog of non-fiction books! I can’t help it — I hear about a book that sounds interesting, and despite knowing my less-than-stellar track record when it comes to reading non-fiction, I just can’t resist adding yet another to my overflowing bookshelves.

I remember reading about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy when it came out. I’ve read several novels set during the Civil War period, and have loved the ones centering on women taking on unusual roles, whether by dressing as men in order to serve in the army or finding other ways to serve the country, often through avenues that defy the gender norms of the time. So what better than to read about real-life women who risked themselves in order to serve a greater cause?

I did actually start this book via audiobook several years back and ended up not getting past the first few chapters. I found the audiobook really hard to follow, because it was too easy to miss the key names or places and then become completely lost. I have a feeling this will work much better for me in print.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!



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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Have fun!

4 thoughts on “Shelf Control #262: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

    • This is my problem exactly — I have a ton of non-fiction books that I think sound amazing, but whenever it’s time to pick up a new book, it’s always fiction that calls to me. Someday, I’ll get through my non-fiction shelf too, I swear!

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