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Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women First Edition Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0807833087
ISBN-10: 0807833088
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Editorial Reviews


Great depth of scholarship and insightful analysis. With its wonderful readability it should also appeal to a more general audience, and will contribute to contemporary conversations about reading in a way that helps us avoid uninformed comparisons between reading today and in the past.--SHARP: Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing

This book offers a wonderful look into the reading lives of many women and should be praised for that contribution.--Southern Historian

[Sicherman] writes beautifully, evoking the culture and milieu of late 19th-century America with sensitivity and great depth. . . . Sicherman's scholarship is particularly laudable because of the nuance she brings to the individual women portrayed. Hers is not a volume of sweeping generalizations, but of careful representations of the desires, values, and personal mythologies each of these women cultivated to become the kind of heroine each desired to be.--Books & Culture

An important study of the impact of reading on young women growing up in the Gilded Age.--American Studies

An important book for those interested in issues of gender, literacy, or nineteenth-century American life. . . . A fine example of how historical scholarship about these issues can move between specific case studies and generalized trends or patterns.--Clio

Beautifully written and meticulously researched.--Publishing Research Quartely

The research behind the individual case studies is thorough and rigorous, and the writing style is engaging. . . . A significant contribution to our understanding of the role of books in the lives of young American women of the period under consideration.--Library & Information History

Sicherman's analysis deepens our understanding of the nature of reading itself, exuding some of the very magic that books clearly held for these young women. . . . An extraordinary contribution to the history of the book, to women's history, and to our understanding of reading's power as a cultural resource for change.--Legacy

An elegant historical survey. . . . Sicherman's well-chosen examples . . . make a good case for her argument that reading mattered crucially.--American Historical Review

Beautifully evokes a world in which women read to construct identity and build community. . . . Elegantly written essays . . . represent a significant contribution to the history of print culture in America. . . . [An] invaluable monograph.--Indiana Magazine of History

Well-Read Lives provides a highly accessible, engaging examination of the latent potential in the female literary culture of the Gilded Age….This is a rewarding look into the power of reading to transform lives.--H-Net Reviews

A beautifully crafted monograph. . . . Highly recommended.--Choice

Sicherman's study of female reading is as inspirational, entertaining, and comforting as the books her subjects pursued and celebrated. This is truly a text to be reckoned with as both a model and resource of the complicated ways that readers make sense of their texts.--Reviews in American History

Each chapter in this book could serve as a stand-alone essay for the reader who was looking for resources on these particular women. . . . A valuable resource for understanding Progressive Era women's culture.--Women and Social Movements in the United States

Well-Read Lives deftly balances the big picture of Gilded Age literary culture with the specificity and uniqueness of its individual subjects. With nuance and insight, Sicherman makes a convincing case that private reading practices had a profound impact on Progressive women's public endeavors.--Journal of American History


Sicherman's meticulous, elegantly written study is a major contribution to the history of the book and thus to a richer version of American social and cultural history. A rewarding exploration of the purposes reading served in the lives of prominent Progressive-era women, it also moves toward recovering the role of print in the lives of less-privileged individuals. We do not have another book like this.--Joan Shelley Rubin, University of Rochester

|Through extraordinary archival research and careful reading of diaries, letters, autobiographies, and other writings, Sicherman provides a thoughtful, well-documented, and original account of how young women's 'deep reading' in fiction, biographies, and histories enabled them to think their way into different, quite unprecedented lives. Elegantly written and a delight to read.--Janice A. Radway, author of Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature

|Barbara Sicherman has gifted us with a treasure! This is an extraordinary book that explains, quite simply, how we got to be us: women who read across all our differences; beyond all barriers. Women like Jane Addams, Rose Cohen, Ida B. Wells who seek to understand deeply, learn profoundly, build community in mean and difficult times. This is a timely, marvelous book for this moment of change, danger, hope.--Blanche Wiesen Cook, John Jay College and Graduate Center, The City University of New York

|Barbara Sicherman's gripping, moving history of women's voracious reading is a manifesto for the importance of books in helping people--not only women--dare to dream beyond their current constraints.--Linda Gordon, New York University


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; First Edition edition (April 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807833088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807833087
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,939,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Barbara Sicherman writes about women, privileged and not, real (Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells, Edith and Alice Hamilton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman) and imagined (Jo March, Marjorie Morningstar). Her recent book, "Well-Read Lives" tells moving stories of how young women born in Victorian times lost--and found--themselves in books and worked out a life purpose around them. By discovering the meaning of reading to women in the past, today's readers can gain insight into their own lives. A professor emerita at Trinity College, the author lives in West Hartford, Conn. with her Maine Coon cat, Sascha.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Liz Petry on June 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This valuable work, recently published by University of North Carolina Press, reviews the impact of reading on a group of women who grew up in the Gilded Age and became leaders in their various fields - from literature to politics and advocacy to medicine to education.

Well-Read Lives came to my attention because of a Google alert from the UNC press blog. Patti Smith apparently mentioned that Little Women's Jo March had a positive influence on her view of herself as a female. Reading the entry, I discovered that Barbara had included Simone de Beauvoir, Ann Petry, and Cynthia Ozick among the women for whom Jo was "an exemplar." I emailed Barbara saying that I thought Mother would love being in the company of Patti Smith, and then I bought the book. It was my way of escaping the rigors of preparing for the ALA conference.

Barbara combines excellent scholarship with a clarity of prose and insightful biography of her subjects that will make this book a success among academics and general readers alike. Beginning with her observation that reading fiction helps children overcome fears and make sense of the world around them, Barbara develops her thesis that the women of the Gilded Age were able to achieve great things because of their relationship with books, particularly fiction.

Almost from the first page, I gained insight into my own family beyond that special relationship that I knew my mother had with Jo March. My grandmother, who never finished high school, read to my mother and her sister. Grammy also maintained a considerable library. I always thought she was modeling behavior for her children. Now I realize that years before she had children she had developed the "culture of reading," as Barbara calls it, in order to emulate the wealthy women for whom she worked.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Foolish Reader on September 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is such an interesting, thoughtful, well-researched book. It is difficult to explain the charm of this book, which describes the reading history of women, some born of privilege in this country and some immigrants for whom English was not their first language. It is history and sociology and anthropology, all rolled into the stories of several women. If you like American history, or women's studies, or are just an avid reader, you will thoroughly enjoy this book.
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