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They Went Whistling: Women Wayfarers, Warriors, Runaways, and Renegades Paperback – February 5, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

They Went Whistling is Barbara Holland's account of history's outstanding, and largely forgotten, females. The women revealed within these pages were driven by passion--for religion, humanity, adventure, politics, and knowledge--that couldn't be curtailed by convention. They were witty, defiant, and, more often than not, beautiful. Shamefully, most of us are unfamiliar with their accomplishments. Holland brings such faces as Joan of Arc, Daisy Bates, Stagecoach Mary, and Mary "Mother" Jones into the same light as Napoleon, Lawrence of Arabia, Billy the Kid, and Frederick Engels.

These women lived fascinating lives. Often it is not their virtuousness that is prized, but their gall and utter disregard for living within societal lines. In the chapter entitled "Menswear," we learn that as a young woman George Sand found that when "dressed as a man, she was treated as a man, and allowed to argue and speak her mind." She henceforth lived a life of androgyny, holding "the peculiar idea that she could be a man as well as a woman, alternately and simultaneously." Then there is the story of Grace O' Malley, an Irish pirate who commandeered her own fleet of plundering ships. And who has produced more rumors and speculation than Amelia Earhart, who "for over two weeks was the most famous person in the world"? Holland also divulges obscure facts and personality traits. For instance, few know that Bonnie (of Bonnie and Clyde) was an avid romance reader and writer who wrote poems about her adventures. "For Bonnie, crime was the epic ballad she was weaving out of her life."

While the histories are straightforward and detailed, Holland spices these pages with witty and satirical interjections. This book is long overdue and goes far in leveling the historical field of recognition. --Jacque Holthusen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A girl-power version of women's history, Holland's entertaining book chronicles the lives of women who have defied convention by daring to live as career criminals, soldiers, artists and religious seekers. The individual descriptions of female renegadesAfrom Irish rebel Grace O'Malley to novelist George Sand and Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde) are breezily pleasurable. Holland (Endangered Pleasures; Bingo Night at the Fire Hall) maintains a droll tone ("Few husbands would rather have their wives seek truth than cook dinner") and juggles a range of historical examples with ease. The book's energy is hampered, however, by the author's sometimes simplistic rationales for why many women have stayed closer to home: "Even if she has neither job nor children, what will become of her house and garden without her, and will her cat starve and her friends forget her?" Holland's concluding complaintAthat "careers... keep women in line more effectively than policemen or repressive husbands"Amay strike some readers as overstated, as will her general lament for our "lost" sense of adventure, given that a large number of her heroines are queens, amazons, spies and outlaws (hardly role models the average woman can emulate). Still, hers is a brisk, enjoyable volume, likely to draw fans of such women's adventure books as Linda Greenlaw's The Hungry Ocean. (Feb. 20)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (February 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720021
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a terrific new book from Barbara Holland! It's about extraordinary women: the famous, like Queen Cleopatra, and the relatively unknown, like pirate Grace O'Malley. Holland's wise and witty style is the glue that holds these women's stories -- extremely well researched -- together. She has done the legwork so we can sit back and enjoy. No dull stuff here!
We may have thought we knew the likes of Joan of Arc and Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde) from the movies, plays and poems about them. With "They Went Whistling" we get closer to the real women, and they're a great deal more fascinating than the Hollywood versions. Holland's got the facts to back up her statements, but this book is no dry history lesson: it's a heck of a lot of fun.
One of my favorite women is Mary Kingsley, born in England in 1862. At the age of 30, a spinster, she went off to West Africa to explore. Alone. Her adventures were amazing; her humor a delightful bonus. A crocodile, Kingsley wrote in her journal, "chose to get his front paws over the stern of my canoe, and endeavored to improve our acquaintance. I had to retire to the bows, to keep the balance right, and fetch him a clip on the snout with a paddle...."
In her introduction, Holland writes, "In the index to Kenneth Clark's definitive `Civilisation' ... we find the names of 395 men and eleven women...." Men may get the credit for inventing the wheel and the skyscraper, but with Holland's latest book we can celebrate women who ruled, battled, explored and exploited a few corners of the world, too. Most highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Wow! She's done it again. "They Went Whistling" is a fantastic read. Barbara Holland consistently amazes me with her incredible ability to find even the most obscure facts in her research and then distills them into a most delightful, informative and humorous book. Ever since I read "In Private Life" at least 20 years ago, giggling out loud alone in my kitchen, I wouldn't miss anything she writes.
In her book, "Hail to the Chiefs," Holland dug up facts and anecdotes about past presidents of the United States and served them up on a delicious dish of hilarious humor. In "They Went Whistling," she has managed to do the same, but this time she has chosen, along with famous women, some we would never have heard of without Holland's wonderful and descriptive tales. I loved learning that Cleopatra was not the "ultimate siren" or the "pure sexual temptation" that the Romans and Hollywood made her out to be. Instead, "according to Plutarch, she spoke nine or ten languages," and, as Holland says, "Cleopatra knew a thing or two about pharmaceuticals...she'd written a book on cosmetics full of ingredients unknown to Estee Lauder."
And then there's Daisy Bates, in her Victorian garb, running around with the Australian Aborigines, learning "a hundred and twenty-nine languages." Bates also "had a son that didn't particularly appeal to her," but, Holland says, "as a general rule the whistling women made absentminded mothers."
Indeed, I agree with the accolades Russell Baker and Dave Berry offer to Holland's books. I believe she is one of the finest writers of this century. She writes with a grace and style unmatched.
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Format: Paperback
Barbara Holland's book "They Went Whistling" is a delight! Holland uses wit, sarcasm and a vast knowledge of many incredible women. This book highlights not only well known women (Cleopatra, Joan of Arc) but also remarkable lesser known women. These ladies were not the "fairer sex" by any means. Their stories exude courage, brawn and too little glory. For those looking for some herstory this book is a MUST read. I found myself laughing, gasping and making list of women who I wanted to read more about. The stories blend together beautifully in a easy and smooth flow. Holland's wit is so catching and real I soon felt like she was a good friend or relative telling me stories of the past. Thank you Ms. Holland for the education and experience.
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Format: Hardcover
I recently had the good fortune to hear Barbara Holland read from her latest book, They Went Whistling. Though it is quite different from Bingo Night at the Fire Hall, Endangered Pleasures, and Wasn't the Grass Greener, it was equally wonderful -- as is everything Holland writes. While the others are warm, witty, and wistful social commentaries, in They Went Whistling Holland delights us with the unique adventures of women who dared to set out, usually alone, in directions far from the expected. As usual, Holland's remarkable humor and "asides" thread through a wealth of information to weave yet another thoroughly satisfying read. Bravo again!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you have a rebellious spirit and feel as though you don't fit in with your gender role as a woman, you are not alone. For their time period/lifespan these women not only defied gender norms but recreated them and made room for other women to do the same.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read my other BH reviews. Never a dud, always a great read. Part history, part essay, part opinion... Why is she not more popular and sell better. Although she must have a following from all the books she has published.
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