SOCIAL SCIENCES

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

Harper. Sept. 2014. 544p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780062092892. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062092915. HIST
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In this riveting work, Abbott (Sin in the Second City) tells the story of the Civil War through the eyes of four women who dared to risk everything to serve as spies for their respective causes. Unlike biographical works such as Larry G. Eggleston's Women in the Civil War that devote a chapter to each subject, these women's tales move from one account to the next throughout the years. The result is a highly entertaining narrative with the pace and tone of a novel, albeit one told from the singular viewpoint of women who had an unusual amount of access to both Union and Confederate military and political leaders. Of particular interest are references to Mary Bowser, whose placement inside Jefferson Davis's household by her employer Elizabeth Van Lew is a missed opportunity for a broader perspective on undercover activities. Extensive research drawn from analysis of personal papers, newspapers, and official records provides authentic dialog, and the author takes great care in noting discrepancies or questionable claims.
VERDICT This fresh perspective on what is perhaps a familiar story will cause readers to ponder the fine line between traitors and patriots. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]

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