Review: Bad Girls from History

This book was sent to me by Pen and Sword Books in exchange for an honest review.

I sometimes get the feeling that accessibility is why some people don’t get into history. I mean, history is the best. Why wouldn’t a person be into history?! But when you look at the main portal for getting into history, most of the time it’s going to be books. Thick books. Heavy, intimidating books, mostly written by academics who are writing for other academic types and not the everyday person.

This is where Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood? by Dee Gordon comes in.

Recently published in the UK (it’s out next month in North America), Bad Girls is a good primer for those of us who are interested into women who wanted to experience more than needlework in their sitting room and were either forced into rebellious lives or chose that path of their own free will.

Gordon’s book is a light, quick read and includes about 2 pages on a range of “bad girls,” divided into six categories: Courtesans and Mistresses; Madams, Prostitutes and Adulterers; Serial Killers; ‘One Off’ Killers; Gangsters, Thieves and Con-Artists; and The Rebel Collection (basically miscellaneous). Some of my favorite biographies included were Mary Wollstonecraft, Mae West, Emma Hamilton, Lola Montez, Belle Gunness, Mary Carleton, the female pickpockets, a couple Nazis, Mata Hari and Catherine de Medici.

Gordon walks a thin line between the spiciest details and the myths that made these women immortal—well, most of these women. I like that Gordon included many that even this women’s history nerd had never heard of.

My only major criticism of this book is its lack of women from outside the English-speaking world. Cleopatra and a handful of others are in there but it’s mostly women who lived in the UK and the US. I realize this was probably due to lack of resource material more.

For someone just getting history or even women’s history specifically, this is a great, short beginner level book with a broad range of subjects that will likely make you want to learn more about your own favorites.


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jillianne hamilton headshotJillianne Hamilton is an author, history enthusiast, book lover and graphic designer. Her debut novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, was shortlisted for the 2016 Prince Edward Island Book Award. She is currently working on her first non-fiction book. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada's beautiful east coast.
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