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Betty Friedan: Her Life Hardcover – March 16, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (March 16, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679432035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679432036
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,304,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A biography, even a sympathetic one, isn't always the sincerest form of flattery. The kindest histories are often those written about a subject when enough time has passed for all the wounds to heal. Judith Hennessee's portrait of feminist Betty Friedan is a study in profound contradictions and a reminder that the founders of movements are not necessarily nice people. As a child of privilege growing up in Depression-era Peoria, Friedan was both brilliant and caustic; an elitist, and at the same time an outsider--a Jew in a world of moneyed Gentiles. Later, at Smith College, Friedan flowered intellectually, but then, after a short stay at Berkeley and a few years as a union organizer, she fell in love and seemingly turned her back on the world of ideas, choosing marriage and convention over a career. Friedan liked convention, and it was within its confines that she produced her revolutionary thesis The Feminine Mystique.

Friedan's contradictions as recounted within the pages of Hennessee's well-written and thoroughly researched book read like a laundry list. She's a feminist who prefers the company of men to the friendship of women. Her temper and penchant for political infighting cost her the leadership of the National Organization for Women (which she founded). And, with her sense of entitlement, she saw no irony in calling a meeting of feminist organizers in her New York apartment, then employing a black maid in a white uniform to serve refreshments. But despite her flaws, the Betty Friedan who ultimately emerges from Hennessee's biography is very much a heroine--a woman never afraid to challenge the status quo, whose keen perceptions and astute social vision have always been far more than the sum total of her own prejudices. Betty Friedan, says Hennessee, is a force of nature. --Patrizia DiLucchio

From Publishers Weekly

Published in 1963, Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was a bestselling analysis of the oppression of middle-class women that helped ignite the women's liberation movement. In this unauthorized biography, Hennessee reveals how Friedan's difficult early life contributed to her theories and how the book's success influenced much of the rest of her life. Born in 1921 to an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Peoria, Ill., Friedan was highly intelligent, but her childhood and teen years were marred by anti-Semitism and sexism. While attending Smith College and UC-Berkeley, Friedan flirted with political radicalism and labor organizing before marrying, becoming a mother and starting a career as a journalist and later an author. The success of The Feminine Mystique made Friedan the country's most prominent spokesperson for women's rights, a role that was bolstered by her involvement in founding the National Organization for Women in 1966. However, as the women's movement grew, Friedan's position was contested, and confrontations with other leaders grew more frequent. While never shying away from what she presents as Friedan's faultsAher rages, excessive drinking, vindictiveness and hostility toward lesbians and women of different class and racial backgroundsAHennessee remains sympathetic to a fault, often presenting historical material uncritically from Friedan's point of view. This tight focus precludes a more comprehensive look at the period. (Karla Jay's recent Tales of the Lavender Menace is more successful in this regard.) Hennessee's prose is often clumsy, her marshaling of detail lax and her approach to her subject so fawning that the book feels insubstantial. Friedan and the women's movement deserve better. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Gunden(gundenlan@aol.com) on May 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Twenty-eight years ago, the work of Betty Friedan changed forever, my view of my role as a woman in society. Reading Hennessee's well-researched and balanced account of Betty's life and times, allowed me to reconnect with a special time and era to all women (at least white, middle class women!) It is fascinating to know Betty with all her contradictions exposed; her feelings of being marginalized and excluded, her need for recognition and acknowledgement ( especially from men), and inability to connect with her own spirituality and aging. Equally amazing is the fact that Betty's Feminine Mystique took feminism mainstream, but failed to acknowledge patriarchy as the root cause of the unspoken dissatisfaction and yearning of American women. Also of interest are accounts of "behind the scenes" maneuvers at key events in the Feminist Movement, highlighing the rivalry between Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and others. One can only hope that both women and men are learning new ways of being and can move to behaviors embracing a partnership model rather than a dominator model as we approach the new millenium.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pamela on June 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a disappointing biography of the Second Wave feminist pioneer, Betty Friedan. Its author spends so much time making insulting and belittling remarks about Friedan's behavior, clothing, relationships, lifestyle, etc., that the reader begins to wonder if it is a deliberate and underhanded attempt to discredit the feminist leader. The biographer apparently spent a great deal of time interviewing all of Friedan's past acquaintances, trying to cull out unpleasantries and dirty laundry. Everything negative that happens in Friedan's lifetime is blamed on personal shortcomings of Friedan. This is not a credible biography. Instead, I would suggest reading Friedan's own recent memoir of her life, _Life So Far_. Anyone who has read any of Friedan's books (_Feminine Mystique_, _It Changed My Life_, _Fountain of Age_) and been impressed with this great woman's strong voice for women's rights, and her extraordinarily powerful messages, will have difficulty with the negativity that mars this second rate book. I really don't understand why a biographer with so little empathy for her subject spent the time to write this book. Friedan herself is a marvelous writer, and she is misrepresented and underrated here.
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Format: Hardcover
Judith Hennessee presents feminist icon Betty Friedan in a truthful and intriguing light. Both the inspiring, history-making truth and the less glamorous personal side are presented with candor. This book has given me a much clearer view of a woman synonymous, but strangely at odds with, revolutionary female culture in America and beyond.
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