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Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New York Paperback – Bargain Price, November 21, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (November 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060789875
  • ASIN: B0013W32VS
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #316,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This rich novel set in post–Civil War New York stars a true-life cast of characters that includes Victoria Woodhull, the spiritualist turned first woman to run for the U.S. presidency; passionate suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the aged Cornelius Vanderbilt, who sits atop a $100-million fortune as he tries to make contact with his dead son; and Anthony Comstock, a crusading moralist who dedicates his life to outlawing pornography and "obscene objects made of rubber." As they each vie for different kinds of sex-based power, the consequences of their actions echo from the halls of Congress to Manhattan's back alleys. Piercy (Gone to Soldiers) powerfully dramatizes the early feminists' zeal and the high stakes of the gender wars it set in motion, and offers a wealth of period detail, including tips on using an outdoor latrine when living in a fifth-floor walk-up and the cost to bathe (fully dressed, no soap) in the East River. Most poignant among the invented characters is Freydeh Leibowitz, a young Russian-Jewish widow, who, far from the scandalous headlines and saloon gossip of the times, makes a living for herself and her adopted children, penny by penny, as a manufacturer of reliable condoms. Stylistically, the narration and dialogue don't wow, but the people, their ways of living and the ways they are marked by sex certainly do. (On sale Nov. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The title Sex Wars sounds like Star Wars, and although Piercy's latest is set on Earth, it does illuminate a strange and treacherous world: the Gilded Age in New York City. Piercy's great theme is always the battle between the sexes and the hardships misogyny imposes on women. In this mesmerizing, sexy, and forthright historical novel, she portrays heroic women determined to control every aspect of their lives, from birth control to finances. Piercy homes in on Cornelius Vanderbilt throwing his money and weight around as the first great wave of European immigrants arrives; savvy businesswomen make their fortunes running bordellos and performing abortions; the women's rights movement coalesces, and Anthony Comstock launches his fanatically censorious crusade. Piercy so vividly imagines the minds of the historical figures she fictionalizes that it is almost like visiting different planets to go from Comstock's neurotic psyche to the inner realm of the brilliantly scheming and sensual Victoria Woodhull, a beautiful medium who becomes the first woman stockbroker and a women's rights advocate. Piercy's portrayals of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are strikingly affectionate and funny, and the imaginary Freydeh Levin, a strong and giving Russian Jewish immigrant, is equally compelling as she goes into business manufacturing condoms. Triumphantly candid in its approach to sexuality, this is a message novel in the best possible sense, spectacularly engrossing and truly moving. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I love historical fiction.
Amanda Bauer
Piercy has done well in keeping the characters as close to the real person as possible.
Jennifer Rothwell
The first chapter was very average, but after that I was hooked!
Rebecca N. Phillips

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lilly Flora VINE VOICE on July 16, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The more I read historical fiction the more convinced I am that the educational system in America is completely inadequate (and I went to a supposedly college prep school!) "Sex Wars" by Marge Percy is a particularly good example of that failure. There is so much in this novel about women's history that should not be forgotten-especially now. There is information in this book that should be taught to everyone so that we can keep from backsliding into a nation where once again women are treated as children, with no control over their own bodies, legal matters, property, freedom or children.

"Sex Wars" is really four stories is one, though they all intertwine and weave a larger message of the battle that women faced for equality in the last quarter of the 19th century. Though the back of the book claims that the novel mainly follows Freydeh, a young Jewish woman searching for her sister in New York City and along the way she meets some of the largest influences of the age, in reality it is divided up between her and three others. The first suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhull sexual freethinker and the first woman to run for president, and Anthony Comstock founder of the society for the suppression of Vice; they all have a voice in this book.

In truth the novel does follow Freydeh as she searches for her sister, but also as she begins to adopt street children to care for and begins a burgeoning condom making business so that she can make enough money to feed, cloth and house herself and her adopted children, as well as sending money back to her home country for her family to immigrate on. But it also follows Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Snowbrocade VINE VOICE on April 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Piercy paints a portrait of women who were intelligent and gutsy in a time that did not reward those qualities in women. Of course we don't hear much about them now because history under-reports the feats of women. The fact that these women thought for themselves and led innovative lives was amazing considering the oppression that was the norm.

Some of the characters in this story were historic figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Comstock. Others were lesser known figures such as the psychic turned candidate for president Victoria Woodhull. I have to admit I was more interested in Woodhull and some of the fictional characters. It really didn't work to have the fictional and non-fictional characters together. I also didn't like the numerous head changes--I wanted to stick with the one story and see what happened. With so much shifting from on story to another I did not attach to or get to know any of the characters.

A really interesting book despite some flaws and well worth a read. It portrays the zest of a time of great change in American history.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Anne M. Hunter VINE VOICE on July 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most exciting historical novel I've read in ages, set in an unusual time, just after the Civil War. It follows several very different people, including the leading "first wave" feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Victoria Woodhull, along with the puritannical moral campaigner Anthony Comstock, and a struggling recent Jewish immigrant and her family. I could hardly put the book down as it ranged from one group of characters to another, and I found it just delicious. Other reviewers have felt that the dialogue was wooden, but it didn't bother me in the least, and it's an easy read, not a sociology text. It's so important to be reminded how bad life was for women and how hard women had to fight to change the laws and society. Well-written and of interest to feminists, those interested in the 19th century spiritualist movement, and the experiences of immigrants in New York City.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lissa on February 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have to disagree with the other reviewers who felt that the narrative style of this novel ruined it for them. While it will never be included in the annals of "fine literature", this book remains an enjoyable read which I would have no hesitation in recommending to others.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ronna on December 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Marge Piercy's SEX WARS is a winner.....a new kind of historical fiction....the next new blockbuster in book sales....an absolute must read for all book groups! Line up for awards Marge Piercy. Book fans will be greatly rewarded by reading your newest book! I would not be surprised to see this book win the next Pulitzer Prize!!

Most everyone will recognize the big names in the suffragette movement,--such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton--but Marge Piercy has put all those well known characters, some lesser known characters, and some purely fictional characters together to create an historical fiction that everyone will enjoy reading. Her story is interesting, personal, compelling, and helpful in understanding how women and men developed into the society that makes today's USA the country that we can all relate to, and debate about, continuing issues....if we so choose to be as brave and bold as some of those women in this story.

Book groups prepare for some great and lengthy intellectual debates with Marge Piercy's SEX WARS!!!!
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