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Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant (Borzoi Books) Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 8, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The wives of abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, Confederacy president Jefferson Davis and Union commander Ulysses S. Grant don't fit comfortably between one book's covers. Though they lived during roughly the same period, they differed in disposition, situation aspiration and gifts. But Baruch College and CUNY Graduate Center historian Berkin (Revolutionary Mothers) isn't out to create a group portrait. Instead, she wants to catch the realities of three privileged, yet restricted women and thus to reveal how even the most fortunate of wives—at least fortunate in the importance and celebrity of their husbands—struggled, not always successfully, to face down the difficulties of their sex. In this, Berkin is entirely successful. Her engaging prose and sympathetic posture bring the three women vividly to life. Weld, Davis and Grant were unrepresentative in their marriages but typical in their struggles to use their sharp minds to break free of the era's restrictions on married women. Even if they weren't, contrary to Berkin's hackneyed word, heroes, they pointed the way to what women's lives might—and eventually did—become. 6 photos. (Sept. 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"A Fascinating and lively narrative"— The Christian Science Monitor
"Thoroughly fascinating. . . . belongs on the bookshelf of all Civil War enthusiasts, right next to the biographies of Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, and Mary Lincoln."— Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval 
"Using letters, books and other historical documents, Berkin paints a lively and empathetic picture of these women's lives."— St. Petersburg Times
"A well written, highly accessible exploration of marriage and the cult of true womanhood as it played out in the lives of three southern women. Berkin's fascinating case studies . . . reveal the complex interplay out in the lives of southern women of the Civil War era."— Civil War Book Review 

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Borzoi Books
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044464
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,771,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By rebelmomof2 VINE VOICE on January 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an incredible read. Normally, when I read nonfiction/history books, I would often find my eyes crossing while reading different names and places among the mumble and jumbles ... but not this time. This author, Ms. Berkin, has brought these three women (that I really didn't know anything about) and their differences and unique temperaments alive in these pages. The only thing these women have in common is the fact that they were born and raised in slave-holding families of the South. The Civil War affected each of them in different ways. They all were married to famous men, strong leaders in their own rights.

History is often mute on the subject of women and how they view wars in their lifetimes. Ms. Berkin brought these women's voices alive.

I have to say that I really enjoyed getting to know each of these women in these pages. I would now think that Mrs. Weld is really the forerunner of the feminism movement that took off in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She and her sister were fighting hard in their days to allow their voices to be heard. They also balanced traditional housewifery chores alongside with raising kids and teaching their kids as well as other kids ... bringing the realities of housewifery as a lot of work back then across to the modern readers (I definitely appreciate my washer and dryer now!). It never occurred to them or to Mrs. Weld's husband, that there is a need for balancing the housework along with going on the lecture circuit among the three of them. It is an interesting biography to read.

Mrs. Davis is a strong woman tempered by her genteel upbringing where women are encouraged to think that their husbands are the mainstays of the household and yet she struggled with it since she was a very intelligent woman.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lukey on January 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Good read. Three women who had up close and personal views of the Civil War and the movements that led to it. The era did not encourage Southern women to be educated, intellectual or interested in the issues of the day. In fact Angela Grimke and Varina Davis were disliked and persecuted by the public for not fitting the Southern belle model of womanhood. They endured years of personal hardships and unhappiness when for not fitting the model. But they stood for something greater than themselves. On the other hand Julia Grant was the model Southern belle only concerned with her family's happiness and she was very popular. Women who behave themselves do not change the world. Angela Grimke and Varina Davis did their bit to show how capable women could be
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By raindancer on January 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book, it was well written and interesting. There were two glaring errors in the text though that make me question the research. On page 165 she refers to William McClellan's Peninsular Campaign. Uh, that would be George B. McClellan not William, arghhh. Later on page 279, Salmon Chase is referred to as Samuel Chase. These errors are glaring to anyone with even a passing interest in the history of the American Civil War and I was shocked to see them. Don't know whether to blame the publisher or the author but it makes me suspicious of the fact checking done on this publication.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Volksal on August 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a terrific read. It was recommended by a friend and I'm glad I followed her advice. Berkin researched her subjects thoroughly, using archives, diaries, letters and yet was able to deliver a very readable, interesting book, seamlessly woven together into a portrait of most of the 19th century, highlighting the attitudes and conditions women faced. Women today have most likely never heard of Weld, Davis, or Grant, and yet so much is owed to them and others like them.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on January 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a woman during the Civil War, especially one who wanted rights and freedom at a time when women were second class citizens? Carol Berkin delves into these questions in her well researched book Civil War Wives: The Lives & Times of Angela Grimke Weld, Virginia Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant. These women led vastly different lives, yet they all had one thing in common. They were strong and opinionated women who challenged their society's view of a women's place and made a big difference in their communities.

The woman who stood out the most to me was Varina Howell Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis fell in love with Varina for her sparky personality, but disproved of her behavior once they married. Why couldn't she just be a good, obedient wife? She had opinions about politics and vocally opposed some of her husband's political moves. Jefferson Davis was so unhappy with his wife's opposition that he declared she was a "difficult person to grow fond of" and concluded that her behavior must be caused by pregnancy hormones. Despite her husband's resistance, Varina continued to develop her personal political beliefs and became an expert political lobbyist for her husband's eventual release from prison.

This book is full of interesting facts, amusing stories, and detailed research. It's an interesting read for anyone who loves Civil War history. I found it rather tedious to read through and read it in short intervals. However, it is definitely worth the effort. Weld, Davis, and Grant's stories will touch your heart and leave you a more informed person than you were before this book fell into your hands.

by Jennifer Melville
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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