Book Review - Ladies of Liberty
by terry mathews - news-telegram arts editor
Ladies of Liberty
By Cokie Roberts
William Morrow. $26.95. 394 pp.
June 27, 2008 - I should have known better. In the 4-page Acknowledgments and Author's Note at the front of journalist Cokie Roberts' new book, "Ladies of Liberty," she warned me about the quagmire.
"First a word about what this book is and what it isn't. It is the story, told as much as possible in their own words, of influential women in the period between the inauguration of John Adams in 1797 and his son, John Quincy Adams in 1825. It is not the story of everyday women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many of whom had much harder lives than the elite women who had the ears of the Founding Fathers. ... This book turned out to be a much bigger undertaking than I expected ... "
Maybe the usually warm and chatty Roberts was simply overwhelmed by the amount of material available on women like Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Rosalie Stier Calvert, Dolley Payne Madison and Eliza Hamilton. Maybe she couldn't decide what to cut, so she left everything in the mix.
Maybe Roberts decided to channel the spirit of William Faulkner, past master of long, rambling paragraphs and stream of consciousness prose.
Maybe the editors at William Morrow told her lengthy paragraphs, droning on and on without a break, were all the rage. Or maybe they were afraid to say "Miss Roberts, we need to talk."
Whatever happened between research and writing, the result is dull, dry and painfully boring. I wanted to like the book because I'm a long-time Roberts fan and the book's subject matter seemed interesting on first pass. It was not to be.
I slogged through to the bitter end, eyes glazed over from reading page after boring page about the Louisiana Purchase, the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton saga and the number of tie votes it took to elect a president. Even tales of Abigail Adams, the mother-in-law from hell, wore thin after a while.
I'm trying to think of who might enjoy spending time with this book, but for the life of me, no one comes to mind.