There's probably no woman in America who is as famous--or controversial--as Martha Stewart. In Martha Inc.
Christopher Byron gets past the public persona to tell how "the quiet little girl from the house on Elm Place" became the "richest self-made businesswoman in America." While Byron acknowledges that Stewart has a good side, there's not much evidence of it here; much of the book focuses on the darker aspects of Stewart's private life that were first popularized in Jerry Oppenheimer's mean-spirited Just Desserts
. Unlike Oppenheimer's account, however, Byron keeps the mudslinging in check by also chronicling her amazing business success as "one of the most potent and effective brands in the history of American marketing." He details her relationships with Kmart, Group W, and Time-Warner, noting that her maneuvering to buy her company back from Time-Warner was "easily the greatest financial coup in the history of American publishing." The result is an interesting and often scandalous story of a woman who proves to be far more complicated than the image her media empire projects. --Harry C. Edwards
An irony underlies this splendid biography: although Mary Shelley revered the memory of her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died shortly after giving birth to her, she was dominated by men all her life, beginning with her father, the impecunious radical William Godwin. She eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was then married to another woman, and she catered to the rebellious poet's whims until his death, in 1822. As a twenty-four-year-old widow with one surviving child, she depended on her unsympathetic father-in-law, who provided scant support on the condition that she not publish Shelley's poetry or write about him. She eked out a living as a hack writer, but her notorious novel, "Frankenstein," brought in only a pittance. Her reconstruction of her husband's image proved more successful, however. By the time she died, in 1851, her son had inherited the Shelley estate, and Mary, evading her father-in-law's prohibitions, had invented a dreamy, saintlike Shelley, more acceptable to Victorians than her turbulent husband had been.
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