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Very Much a Lady: The Untold Story of Jean Harris and Dr. Herman Tarnower Paperback – February 21, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; 1 edition (February 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416509593
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416509592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #682,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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It is a very readable account of what lead up to the terrible event.
CL
Some of the questions in the book are left open, and Alexander wisely presents information without trying to definitively answer them.
Privacy, Please
As for Dr. Tarnower, I hope he is remembered as what Mrs. Harris feared he would be: a "diet Doc."
Rebecca Ivie Scott

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Woodbury on October 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Shana Alexander's Very Much a Lady and Diana Trilling's Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor are complementary books about a fascinating case: the murder of Dr. Tarnower by his lover Jean Harris.
It is Jean Harris' motive in killing Dr. Tarnower that interests these two writers. Jean Harris was neither psychotic nor particularly violent. In some ways, she seemed the classic example of the woman wronged. In other ways, she seemed the classic example of the 1950s woman coping uneasily and unsuccessfully in the changed world of the 1980s and in still other ways, she seemed the eternal victim of circumstance.
Both writers agree that the punishment did not fit the crime. Mrs. Harris did not intend to kill Dr. Tarnower and in law, intent does matter. Shana Alexander spends more time than Diana Trilling in exploring the mistakes made by the defense (such as their refusal to plead to a lesser charge), and she is more critical of the prosecution. Both writers, however, are primarily interested in Jean Harris' character. Their differing approaches regarding the latter are at the heart of these similar, yet ultimately distinct, books.
Shana Alexander is an objective partisan. She is honest about Jean Harris' flaws, but it is clear both from her tone and the accumulation of biographical information that she considers Jean Harris not as a victim but as a basically sane and not unlikable human being pushed beyond her limits by her culture, her background, her medical history and her own psychology. She doesn't exculpate Jean Harris but neither does she condemn her.
Diana Trilling, on the other hand, is far less partisan and far more critical. She sees in Jean Harris a woman who sacrificed her intellectual integrity for a sordid affair. She is disgusted by Mrs.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 27, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Very Much a Lady by Shana Alexander is the immensely readable story of Jean Harris. For anyone who has lost track of yesterday's headlines, Harris is the headmistress of a girls' school who shot and killed her lover, Herman Tarnower, a respected cardiologist who authored the best-selling Complete Scarsdale Diet Book. To this day, Harris maintains that the fatal shooting of Dr. Tarnower was an accident that occurred when the doctor fought with her over the gun she planned to use to kill herself. Alexander traces of the lives of Harris and Tarnower from childhood on and sees the seeds of destruction planted early on. The same character traits which brought them together as lovers doomed them to a terrible ending. Harris's relationship with her impossible-to-please father formed her early identity as a "good girl" and led to her need for a dominant male image to shore up her shaky sense of self. The classic overachiever, Harris had to excel in any project! she tackled. She craved stimulation which she failed to get from her brief first marriage to a decent but unexciting man. Harris divorced him and began a fourteen-year-long love affair with Dr. Tarnower. The latter was a dedicated physician with old-fashioned attitudes toward women. There is one puzzling aspect to the tale that deserves fuller attention than Alexander gives it: Harris's religious background. According to Alexander, Jean Harris's Mom was a devout Christian Scientist. The irony of Jean's passion for a doctor should have been examined in light of the Christian Science beliefs into which she had been indoctrinated during her childhood--but this is ignored by Alexander. The jury rejected Harris's version of events and found her guilty of murder.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Ivie Scott on November 9, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I didn't come to this book "cold." I have seen interviews with and documentary TV programs about Mrs. Harris, read another book about her, and viewed both HBO's "Mrs. Harris" and an earlier, excellent TV movie about her trial which utilized trial transcripts for the dialogue. Shana Alexander's detailed, nuanced book about the life of the woman whom she quickly came to admire and sympathize with gets my vote, however, for how Mrs. Harris should be remembered. Being mesmerized by need and wonderful memories into continuing in an increasingly unrewarding, even degrading, relationship is a phenomenon which both men and women, uneducated or as impressively literate as Jean Harris, can understand. Things can go terribly wrong, particularly when one partner in the relationship seemingly is incapable of true commitment or even of empathy (Dr. T), and the other is under the spell of not only of lost love remembered but of sudden forced withdrawal from mood-altering, inappropriately prescribed medication. Ms. Alexander's book gives a fascinating, multi-faceted look at an uber-capable, extremely responsible adult female who goes through the windshield one appropriately dark and stormy night after long-term endurance of disrespect, flagrant cheating, and neglect and short-term drug-induced crashing depression and panic. Before being released from prison, Jean Harris spent years helping her fellow inmates and their children and writing lucid, compassionate books about this experience; much to her credit, her excellent biographer includes this information in this book. I hope Mrs. Harris, whenever she passes away, lives through the admiration and love of her own children, whom she cared for more than herself, as well as that of a wider audience introduced to her in this work. As for Dr. Tarnower, I hope he is remembered as what Mrs. Harris feared he would be: a "diet Doc."
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