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The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It (P.S.) Paperback – October 6, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 165 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, October 2008: With its trademark fizz and sparkling taste, champagne has long been the beverage of choice for those in a celebratory mood. From the artillery of popping corks on New Year's Eve to the clinking of newlywed glasses, a bit of the bubbly has locked arms with good cheer for centuries. Yet had it not been for the pioneering Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the libation deemed "the wine of civilization" by Winston Churchill might today be available only to the excessively wealthy or extremely lucky. Author Tilar J. Mazzeo toasts the élan of Champagne's Grand Dame with The Widow Clicquot, a fascinating story of the cunning bravery and good fortune that helped build the Veuve Clicquot brand. Widowed at age twenty-seven by the death of her husband François Clicquot, Barbe-Nicole assumed control of her family’s wine business amid the chaos of The Napoleonic Wars. That she became a prominent female leader in a male-dominated industry was one thing; building an empire amid savage political unrest was quite another. With passionate research and true admiration for her subject, Mazzeo pays homage to the beloved Widow from Reims and the remarkable weight her name still carries today. -Dave Callanan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Joan of Arc and Madame Clicquot were the two women heroes I knew when growing up in France. What a gift to have this new, well-researched biography of one of the world’s first ‘legitimate’ businesswoman, our contemporary as a global business leader.” (Mireille Guiliano, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, French Women Don't Get Fat)

“The Widow Clicquot is someone we should all know about.... Long a shadowy, legend-obscured figure, in Tilar Mazzeo’s agile hands the widow sheds her weeds and takes form before our eyes as a distinctly modern entrepreneur....The result is narrative history that fizzes with life and feeling.” (Benjamin Wallace, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Billionaire's Vinegar)

“Told in a light and graceful style that is just right for its subject…. [I]t’s a fascinating trip, made even more so by Ms. Mazzeo’s charming cameo appearances as a kind of tour guide…. This example of Barbe-Nicole’s voice is exceptional…an intoxicating business biography.” (Julia Flynn Siler, The Wall Street Journal)

“The Widow Clicquot, Tilar J. Mazzeo’s sweeping oenobiography of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, is the story of a woman who was a smashing success long before anyone conceptualized the glass ceiling.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Mazzeo’s resulting book is an enticing stew of biography and history.” (USA Today)

“If you like champagne, “The Widow Clicquot” by Tilar J. Mazzeo is definitely worth a drink.” (Associated Press)

“Tilar J. Mazzeo’s informed and enlightening biography of Madame Clicquot, the widow and, more important, the businesswoman, retrieves her vintage story as if looking for a rare bottle in one of the Champagne region’s deepest caves.” (Newsday)

“This book is full of fascinating morsels of information.” (Canberra Times)

The Widow Clicquot is a miraculous feat of organization, one worthy of a doctoral thesis…. [I]n its moments of action, this is actually a gripping story. And while the book appears to be a feminist history/business biography, it’s also the appealing story of the author’s odyssey. (Austin Chronicle)

“Mazzeo’s tale moves swiftly through Barbe-Nicole’s many accomplishments, including her method for storing bottles nose-down—an innovation that allowed the second fermentation detritus to be cleared efficiently, setting her far ahead of her competitors.” (Los Angeles Times)
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; First Edition edition (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061288586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061288586
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (165 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dave Schwartz VINE VOICE on November 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Tilar Mazzeo's The Widow Cliquot tells the story of one of the most interesting of the early champagne tycoons: a woman who, in the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars, founded a dynasty. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the daughter of a prosperous Reims merchant, married into the Cliquot family, who sold both cloth and wine. After her husband's death, she chose to continue running the family's wine business, concentrating on the fizzy wine we now call champagne.

The Widow Clicquot faced long odds-indeed, she was a true gambler-because travel was hazardous and much of the export market was closed. Still, she clung to her vision with a remarkable tenacity and was ultimately successful-Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin is still one of the best known champagne houses in the world.

The book has a great deal of interesting information on the history and production of champagne-this gives the Widow's life some context. Mazzeo's finest moment is her taut telling of the delivery of the 1811 vintage under the specter of war in 1813. Mazzeo clearly sets the scene and lets the reader know just how high the stakes are. We really get a sense of the menace-and triumph-of the Widow's life.

Much of what happens after that drama, which falls about in the middle of the book, is unfortunately anti-climax. Mazzeo's problem is that there simply aren't any sources to guide her: since the Widow left scanty records of her personal life, we just don't know what was going on there. It's no coincidence that a well-documented episode from the Widow's business career is the best part of the book: clearly, there were solid sources to ground the story here.

There also seems to be a great deal of telling, rather than showing in the narrative.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a lover of history, a career woman who takes pride in other women's achievements in the business world, and an oenophile (whose favorite champagne is Clicquot), I could hardly wait to read this book. In fact, the summary of the book seemed to be written just for me! What I found when I read this book, however, was very different from what I expected.

I feel as if I read a "docudrama" or some similar fictional account based loosely upon a few historical facts. The Widow Clicquot should have been a 50 page thesis for a history grad student (assuming the author was first able to unearth sufficient historical facts). Instead, the author stretched this book to 194 pages in the advance review copy - at least 100 pages past the book's historical-accuracy-breaking-point. The author did her readers a great disservice by attempting to write a biography about Madame Clicquot when the author herself repeatedly admits in the book that she could find almost no recorded history about the lady. Was this book pursued purely for commercial reasons, without regard to the lack of substantive content? Was the author too wrapped up in her intellectual love affair with the concept of Madame Clicquot to recognize that "The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It" fails to tell us much of anything about how Madame created her Champagne Empire, or how she ruled it?

My greatest complaint is that Ms. Mazzeo trys to create historical fact out of thin air throughout The Widow Clicquot. I could provide innumerable examples of the author leaping to conclusions about what Clicquot felt or saw, what Clicquot did and why she did it - all without any sort of reference material to back up her conclusions. For example, the way Ms.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this book two months ago, and it's still frustrating to think that something so poorly crafted and built on a flimsy foundation could have made it to the best seller list. Seriously? There are so many awesome books which will never get popular, and THIS one snags a ride on the hype machine.

"Non-fiction" means a book is factual, unless the definitions have changed along the line and I didn't get the email update. This book, in it's hundreds of pages, has about the same amount of facts as your average huffington post article.

It could actually have been an entertaining read if it was re-engineered to be a dramatic fictional retelling based on fact, like a Tracy Chevalier or a Susan Vreeland book--oh hey, that's totally a real painting, but here's a fun new story I made up for it.
Instead, this book is asking you to bore through page after page of "she possibly did this" or "this might've been the circumstance" and take that as legit non-fiction.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love champagne, especially The Widow; I love France and history and stories about brave women.

I didn't love this book.

Mazzeo couldn't decide what sort of book she was writing. It's not a scholarly study (for all that she splashes her degree across the title page) nor - as several other reviewers point out - is it quite a work of fiction. It's almost a personal memoir - too personal for my taste - but it misses the mark there, too.

Certainly Mazzeo wants to impress us. She tries very hard to make Barbe-Nicole Clicquot a metaphor for women in history, for the narrative of white space, for all those unvoiced shuttles, but she has this horridly Sarah Palin-esqe tendency to get cute about it -- the thinner the facts, the more adorable the narration.

There are two sorts of biographies: those which contain facts and analysis and those which speculate. This is the latter.

The word "surely" appears on every page.

OK, not much is known about Madame Clicquot (whom Mazzeo relentlessly and patronizingly refers to by her first name); but a great deal is known about the history of Reims and the champagne industry. Mazzeo has done admirable work on this and if she would just give it to the reader, all would be well. But she wants to be a biographer, and this leads her down a dubious path.

The most important critical/theoretical work on women's biography is the late Carolyn Heilbrun's path-making Writing a Woman's Life Writing a Woman's Life (Ballantine Reader's Circle). Mazzeo must have read it, since she brings out various of its insights with girlish glee, but she never cites it.
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