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In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons From 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules

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From Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Taylor to Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Lena Dunham, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths in the world. Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of moder From Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Taylor to Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Lena Dunham, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths in the world. Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of modern history. Best-selling author Karen Karbo (The Gospel According to Coco Chanel) spotlights the spirited rule breakers who charted their way with little regard for expectations: Amelia Earhart, Helen Gurley Brown, Edie Sedgwick, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, and Shonda Rhimes, among others. Their lives--imperfect, elegant, messy, glorious--provide inspiration and instruction for the new age of feminism we have entered. Karbo distills these lessons with wit and humor, examining the universal themes that connect us to each of these mesmerizing personalities today: success and style, love and authenticity, daring and courage. Being "difficult," Karbo reveals, might not make life easier. But it can make it more fulfilling--whatever that means for you. In the Reader's Guide included in the back of the book, Karbo asks thought-provoking questions about how we relate to each woman that will make for fascinating book club conversation.


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From Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Taylor to Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Lena Dunham, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths in the world. Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of moder From Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Taylor to Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, and Lena Dunham, this witty narrative explores what we can learn from the imperfect and extraordinary legacies of 29 iconic women who forged their own unique paths in the world. Smart, sassy, and unapologetically feminine, this elegantly illustrated book is an ode to the bold and charismatic women of modern history. Best-selling author Karen Karbo (The Gospel According to Coco Chanel) spotlights the spirited rule breakers who charted their way with little regard for expectations: Amelia Earhart, Helen Gurley Brown, Edie Sedgwick, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, and Shonda Rhimes, among others. Their lives--imperfect, elegant, messy, glorious--provide inspiration and instruction for the new age of feminism we have entered. Karbo distills these lessons with wit and humor, examining the universal themes that connect us to each of these mesmerizing personalities today: success and style, love and authenticity, daring and courage. Being "difficult," Karbo reveals, might not make life easier. But it can make it more fulfilling--whatever that means for you. In the Reader's Guide included in the back of the book, Karbo asks thought-provoking questions about how we relate to each woman that will make for fascinating book club conversation.

30 review for In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons From 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules

  1. 5 out of 5

    Isabella

    I got this arc from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review, so thank u! I'm so disappointed in this. I'm giving one star for the research and another for the few good essays in the middle of it. But I just can't get on board with this book. It already opened with an essay about how J.K. Rowling is Oh So Feminist, even though she is an abuse apologist and a racist. Through it, we also have an essay praising that Lena woman from Girls, who was accused of raping. I think around 80% of the women I got this arc from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review, so thank u! I'm so disappointed in this. I'm giving one star for the research and another for the few good essays in the middle of it. But I just can't get on board with this book. It already opened with an essay about how J.K. Rowling is Oh So Feminist, even though she is an abuse apologist and a racist. Through it, we also have an essay praising that Lena woman from Girls, who was accused of raping. I think around 80% of the women are white, and I think we got more about race in the Janis Joplin chapter where she defended black people, saying that they were also people. There are I think only two chapters about latinx women - and one of them spend a long time talking about how Argentina is so backwards and "macho" cultured, and how them well developed americans couldn't possibly understand that. It also constantly talked about how difficult, settle for nothing less women were downright better than women who can be considered "easy", stay at home moms and whatever the hell that entails, as if they also weren't victims (I mean "the sight of her sliding that gray Mercedes would confirm his belief that she was different from the silly starlets, models and gold diggers he'd been dating"??? what is this 'not like other girls' narrative spun through the whole goddamn book). Also talking about how certain "difficult women" behavior was manlike - I understandthe point but couldn't you write it in a different way than "women stay home and tend the home fires; men go, and me do"? It is so carried with white, lib feminism. It's nothing I imagined it would be - for an exception of a few essays that were really fun and even informative to read. Unfortunately, they don't make up for the rest of the book. I could say that maybe I misunderstood, and that the writer meant well but delivered poorly, but hey, at least she tried right? But I guess I'll just a be difficult woman and say that this book was a disappointment, the praise of these women were often built onto the un-praise of other women, and so much not what I expected

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alisha Marie

    Sigh. I was so looking forward to reading In Praise of Difficult Women. Then, I took a look at the contents page, said "Typical..." and started to read. Look, there are some good things about In Praise of Difficult Women and some of it was well done. However, there was some glaring oversight. The Good: Some of the essays in In Praise of Difficult Women were really well-done. These essays just gave you a taste of what these women were like. Enough that you got a sense of who they were, but were st Sigh. I was so looking forward to reading In Praise of Difficult Women. Then, I took a look at the contents page, said "Typical..." and started to read. Look, there are some good things about In Praise of Difficult Women and some of it was well done. However, there was some glaring oversight. The Good: Some of the essays in In Praise of Difficult Women were really well-done. These essays just gave you a taste of what these women were like. Enough that you got a sense of who they were, but were still curious enough to maybe check out more in-depth books about them. I really enjoyed the Janis Joplin chapter as well as the Josephine Baker, Vita Sackville West, Shonda Rhimes, and Frida Kahlo essays. Oh, and the few illustrations they had (I read an ARC, so not all of them were in there) were absolutely stunning. The Bad: Why in a book of 29 "difficult" women, are there only 7 women of color? I honestly do not get it. Could the author not find more women of color who were daring? Who broke the rules? The funny thing is that the author mentions two of these women in the essays: Coretta Scott King, who was a major player in the Civil Rights Movement, and Kamala Harris (whom she called Kamilla), who is the first U.S. Senator of Jamaican descent and who surely had to be daring to achieve all that she has. Why aren't they worthy enough for an essay? Why isn't Ida B. Wells included? Her investigative journalism into lynching was surely daring. If you wanted to go a more pop culture route, why wasn't Rita Moreno included? Grace Lee Boggs, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, Ella Baker, so many women of color that could have been included but weren't. Instead we have J.K. Rowling, who routinely appropriates Native American culture and is a domestic violence apologist (and this is coming from a HUGE Harry Potter fan). We also have Lena Dunham who says she's all about the feminist cause and that women have no reason to lie about rape...until one of her friends is accused and then suddenly the young woman of color who accused him is lying. Again, why weren't more woman of color included in this? There were 2 and a half page essays for Amy Poehler and Rachel Maddow. Nothing against Poehler and Maddow, but if the author could only find two pages worth of information, maybe she should have omitted them from the book and added a four page essay on one of the women of color above. And sure, I can say, "Hey, at least she included women of color in her book!", but as a woman of color, I'm done applauding white feminists for doing the bare minimum in making sure the movement is intersectional. So, two stars because some of it was interesting. But that's all I can give it. Make it more diverse next time. (Oh and maybe don't say shit like you don't feel bad that a woman had anorexia because it made her look so captivating on camera. Or that you struggle to wrap your feminist arms around women that men celebrate or rush to protect. That's a fucked up thing to say. And it makes you seem like one of the Lena Dunham "feminists".)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    I had to force myself to finish this one in order to get it back to the library and stop the fine build-up. I don't feel the title is a good fit. The author's personal commentary, sprinkled throughout, was often annoying. In labeling each woman with a one word descriptor the author either hems herself in or wanders from the descriptor. Also, I'm curious to know, why these 29 women? How were these women chosen? The title. In labeling these women difficult I feel Karbo is judging any woman who asse I had to force myself to finish this one in order to get it back to the library and stop the fine build-up. I don't feel the title is a good fit. The author's personal commentary, sprinkled throughout, was often annoying. In labeling each woman with a one word descriptor the author either hems herself in or wanders from the descriptor. Also, I'm curious to know, why these 29 women? How were these women chosen? The title. In labeling these women difficult I feel Karbo is judging any woman who asserts herself, in some manner, as difficult. Or, maybe it's meant to be sarcastic, labeling women difficult, as a man would. The undercurrents of sarcasm in playing man against woman feel excessive. Like a man (or a difficult woman) she turned to her work for solace. 91 Or, is she saying that only a woman who is difficult is like a man? Why compare women to men? Throughout the book, I ran into this problem, of not feeling quite certain if things were meant to be sarcastic, or not. Why are these women labeled difficult? At times it feels Karbo reaches too far to force some of these women into the difficult category in order to maintain the theme. Then we have this, Some might call that difficult. I call it being human. 307. Wait, what?! Which is it?! Or, not being sarcastic now? Throughout, the author throws in random, personal comments. Here is an entire footnote, at the bottom of a page, which is completely off topic, and just a two cents thrown in: Which is more than you can say for the average American high school student upon receiving a birthday card from grandma containing a twenty. 128 Elizabeth Taylor's chapter: He didn't ask me, he told me. He was irresistible." Really, Liz? 32 Also, this comment feels more like Karbo's judging Taylor instead of praising her. Karbo labels each woman with a one word descriptor. I think you'd have to know someone very well and personally in order to pick the one word that summed them up, completely, if that is even possible. Most of these chapters are extremely short and it was hard for me to believe in that one word description, over a few short pages, of such complicated women. The final paragraph on each woman usually wraps up with other adjectives and not the main descriptor. Eva Peron is labeled fanatical but then, also, this: She was, in the end, a complicated woman: opinionated, compassionate, vengeful, high-handed. In other words, difficult. 113 The descriptors all felt a bit arbitrary in order to mold these women to fit the theme of difficult. Why these women? Some chapters felt stronger than others, and I couldn't help but think why the author chose certain women to write about, over others. Did someone choose the subjects for Karbo? On Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera we have this: In any case, they remarried in 1940 at a small civil ceremony. Trying to parse the logic behind their reconciliation is above my pay grade. 238 Which sounds like a journalist griping about an assignment. For me the book would have been stronger if it was peddled at a different angle. Maybe show how women are unique with their different gifts and talents which makes them beautiful and important contributors to society and not difficult at all.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: An engaging, inspiring collection where I enjoyed learning about amazing modern women and was left wanting to learn more. This beautiful book, with its gorgeous cover, delightful illustrations, and scalloped pages, is an ode to women author Karen Karbo admires for being 'difficult'. She defines a difficult woman as someone who believes her own desires and aspirations matter and who doesn't let social expectations confine her. Something that made this book stand out from the many other wo Summary: An engaging, inspiring collection where I enjoyed learning about amazing modern women and was left wanting to learn more. This beautiful book, with its gorgeous cover, delightful illustrations, and scalloped pages, is an ode to women author Karen Karbo admires for being 'difficult'. She defines a difficult woman as someone who believes her own desires and aspirations matter and who doesn't let social expectations confine her. Something that made this book stand out from the many other wonderful collections about women in history is that the women were all from recent history. I don't think any of them were born before the 1900s and quite a few are still alive today. While there is value in knowing that women have been doing awesome things since long before they were getting the credit, there was something special and inspiring about seeing these women celebrated for achievements that are so relevant today. Something I loved about this book was the diversity of women Karbo describes. She describes women who are famous as authors, artists, and actresses and others who achieved success in science or politics. Not all of the women are from the US, fully 20% identify as LGBT+, about 20% are women of color and those three groups are not mutually exclusive. There are women who were 'difficult' by being loud and uncompromising. There were also women those of us who are introverts might more easily aspire to be like. These women said what they needed to say to keep the peace and then did what they wanted anyway. I also loved the tone in which these stories were told. It was clear that these are women the author passionately admires. She was sometimes casual and often funny, but her casual tone didn't detract from the quality of her writing. It did help sweep me up in her enthusiasm. It was inspiring seeing these women celebrated for traits that are often only praised if a man has them (ambition, passion, strong sense of self). I liked that the author finished each chapter by pointing out traits she admired about these women that others might consider bringing into their own lives. It was also particularly wonderful seeing the author acknowledge that sometimes these women were flawed and that this doesn't mean we can't admire them for their strengths and their achievements. She seemed less likely to point out the flaws of people still living (Lena Dunham, JK Rowling, Hillary Clinton, etc), but perhaps that's a reasonable kindness. That's really my only very small complaint about this delightful book. I'll definitely be giving this book pride of place on my shelves, revisiting it, and potentially picking up some of the other sources the author recommends for learning more about each of the awesome women she featured here. For some other perspectives, check out the other stops on the tour.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    trigger warnings: n word usage by the white author, ableist language, alcoholism, addiction Honestly, I was pretty disappointed. The majority of these essays centered around white American women in the entertainment industry. I didn't really enjoy the narrative/self reflection in the essays nor some of the people included. I understand the people were not necessarily meant to be "likeable" but there's a difference. I'm probably not explaining my dislike well... To me, it mostly read as a white fe trigger warnings: n word usage by the white author, ableist language, alcoholism, addiction Honestly, I was pretty disappointed. The majority of these essays centered around white American women in the entertainment industry. I didn't really enjoy the narrative/self reflection in the essays nor some of the people included. I understand the people were not necessarily meant to be "likeable" but there's a difference. I'm probably not explaining my dislike well... To me, it mostly read as a white feminist list of 29 ppl that dared to be difficult I DID learn about some cool people though, like Vita Sackville-West, whom was known to dress both masc and femme AND had an affair with Virginia Woolf and was her inspiration to write Orlando.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Swensen

    Three stars because I have some very mixed feelings on this book. Many of the bios are great: provocative, compassionate, incisive, celebratory. More than a few are tarnished by shallow, nasty, judgmental passages about their subjects that seem to come out of nowhere. Also, while I can sort of get behind including genuinely divisive figures like JK Rowling and Lena Dunham (the title does include the word "difficult," after all), I also think it could have done with a bit more diversity. I agree Three stars because I have some very mixed feelings on this book. Many of the bios are great: provocative, compassionate, incisive, celebratory. More than a few are tarnished by shallow, nasty, judgmental passages about their subjects that seem to come out of nowhere. Also, while I can sort of get behind including genuinely divisive figures like JK Rowling and Lena Dunham (the title does include the word "difficult," after all), I also think it could have done with a bit more diversity. I agree with the criticisms that the book is very liberal-white-lady feminism. That said, the chapters on Carrie Fisher and Josephine Baker were my favorites.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I had high hopes for this book. I am very disappointed in the lack of diversity of women chosen to “focus” on. I felt that all of the women chosen lacked depth and dimension in their description of their life.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elisha Condie

    Hmmm. I've got mixed feelings about this one. GREAT concept. But a little murky on why these 29 women? I would have liked to know why she chose these people. Like, why did Edie Sedgwick get a chapter for being bold and brave for charging lunch to her Daddy's account at the fancy hotel? That just seems entitled and bratty to me. And like, we skip oh, I don't know, Mother Theresa? I liked that the author gave a word for each woman describing why she included them - "Feisty" for Harry Potter autho Hmmm. I've got mixed feelings about this one. GREAT concept. But a little murky on why these 29 women? I would have liked to know why she chose these people. Like, why did Edie Sedgwick get a chapter for being bold and brave for charging lunch to her Daddy's account at the fancy hotel? That just seems entitled and bratty to me. And like, we skip oh, I don't know, Mother Theresa? I liked that the author gave a word for each woman describing why she included them - "Feisty" for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, "Indefatigable" for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "Determined" for Jane Goodall - it helped tell their stories, and I liked that. A lot of times her point was just that difficult women don't give a damn WHAT anyone thinks, so if history says Coco Chanel wasn't that nice, who the hell cares? She wasn't. But does that matter? And I don't know. I think it does sometimes. Like I think Gloria Steinham and RBG have done more good than Coco did. But I guess that isn't the point here - it's about their attitudes - they were difficult because they didn't let anyone else's judgements slow them down or stop them and just got things done on their own terms. Which IS pretty damn cool. But I guess I like stories of people (women OR men) who also did something good for the world too. Not that were just difficult for the sake of being difficult. Also, I had to keep taking a break reading this. It made me feel a little small, as a woman who lives a rather average life and tries to do good things, but who isn't going to make anyone's short list of difficult women to write about, ya know?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I really, really wanted to like this book. The idea is a great one- showcase a variety of women who didn't stick to the norms, who pushed boundaries. Showcase these women and discuss the lessons one could learn from their lives. It's a great idea, but it's not an idea that Karen Karbo achieves in this book. I'm reading an advance copy so perhaps things will change, but honestly I don't foresee large edits and changes. My disappointments were in three parts in particular. The first area of disappo I really, really wanted to like this book. The idea is a great one- showcase a variety of women who didn't stick to the norms, who pushed boundaries. Showcase these women and discuss the lessons one could learn from their lives. It's a great idea, but it's not an idea that Karen Karbo achieves in this book. I'm reading an advance copy so perhaps things will change, but honestly I don't foresee large edits and changes. My disappointments were in three parts in particular. The first area of disappointment was the presentation of the information. As I began reading, I was hoping to see a tailored biographical sketch of the woman in question which ended with a life lesson I could take with me into my every day life. The first few sketches did this to a part, but even those did not do so completely. The varied length of the different pieces confused me as well. Some pieces were only a couple pages while others droned on for many more pages. As I got to the notes section at the end I began to understand why which led to my second disappointment. The source material Karbo pulls from is minimal- I would require more of one of my high school students writing up a biographical sketch. I think the idea here is a great one. This type of work would've been better though perhaps if Karbo had assembled a group of writers to write up pieces about difficult women and acted as editor. If that had happened perhaps this piece would've been more diverse (my third disappointment).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    How fortuitous it is that I am reviewing this book for the first day of Women's History. There has been a slew of books for younger readers to introduce them to some really phenomenal women (and thank goodness for it!!!) but there seemingly not been a similar influx of books for adults. This book is a good fit for that deficit! Each chapter focuses on a different woman and they range from politicians to judges to athletes to women who broke just about every barrier imaginable. And as the author c How fortuitous it is that I am reviewing this book for the first day of Women's History. There has been a slew of books for younger readers to introduce them to some really phenomenal women (and thank goodness for it!!!) but there seemingly not been a similar influx of books for adults. This book is a good fit for that deficit! Each chapter focuses on a different woman and they range from politicians to judges to athletes to women who broke just about every barrier imaginable. And as the author constantly reminds us throughout the book: although they were great, because these women didn't fit the normal mold of what society tells us that women should be, every single one of them was considered difficult. It's totally unfair but such is our society. This book is a total inspiration for those that want to shake things up a little bit and push boundaries further for women than they have ever been pushed before. Because each chapter deals with a different woman, it makes for a good book to read bit by bit. Or if you are like me and really like learning about amazing people, you read it in one fell swoop. All I can say is I now have a very long list of biographies and memoirs on and by the woman that appear in this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Lamb

    This book was just flat out interesting. I loved reading about inspiring, strong women who often came from nothing, or hard childhoods, or hard experiences with men and life, and through grit and courage and a belief in themselves, fought their way up and out. They didn't sit home and try to please everyone. There are chapters on Coco Chanel (born into a poor house in France), Angela Merkel (father was a pastor, she moved to East Germany and watched the wall being built as a child), Nora Ephro This book was just flat out interesting. I loved reading about inspiring, strong women who often came from nothing, or hard childhoods, or hard experiences with men and life, and through grit and courage and a belief in themselves, fought their way up and out. They didn't sit home and try to please everyone. There are chapters on Coco Chanel (born into a poor house in France), Angela Merkel (father was a pastor, she moved to East Germany and watched the wall being built as a child), Nora Ephron (literary heroine and screenwriter who had her own childhood/marriage heartaches), Janis Joplin (Bullied horribly at school). There are other chapters about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Amelia Earhart, Lena Dunham, Carrie Fisher, and Elizabeth Taylor, etc. All these women overcome. They're difficult. They're smart. Ambitious. They are themselves. It's a book that makes you think. It's a book that I think should be read in schools.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    This is a celebration of notably difficult women, women who do what they choose rather than what's expected. In most cases, of course, they don't do anything that wouldn't be perfectly acceptable in men, but as we all know, the rules are different for women. We're supposed to be nice, and cooperative, self-effacing--not independent, ambitious, strong, or inconvenient. The women included here are fashion designers, politicians, athletes, artists, actors, singers, and other entertainers. Amelia Ear This is a celebration of notably difficult women, women who do what they choose rather than what's expected. In most cases, of course, they don't do anything that wouldn't be perfectly acceptable in men, but as we all know, the rules are different for women. We're supposed to be nice, and cooperative, self-effacing--not independent, ambitious, strong, or inconvenient. The women included here are fashion designers, politicians, athletes, artists, actors, singers, and other entertainers. Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Taylor, Shonda Rhimes, Helen Gurley Brown, Gloria Steinem, Carrie Fisher, and others are each presented as the difficult and accomplished women they were or are. It's a very lively look at them all, interesting and enlightening, and often inspiring. As a quick introduction to some really impressive women, it's well worth a bit of your time. I bought this audiobook.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

    To be fair, I didn’t finish the book (because it pissed me off). But from what I read, it upholds stereotypes about girls/woman and perpetuates misogynistic beliefs by portraying women who are authentically true to themselves and unwilling to change for society as “difficult” and by defining the definitions (and limitations) of success for women. Additionally, as pointed out in another review, this book spotlights majority white women. I fully believe that all of the women listed in this book ar To be fair, I didn’t finish the book (because it pissed me off). But from what I read, it upholds stereotypes about girls/woman and perpetuates misogynistic beliefs by portraying women who are authentically true to themselves and unwilling to change for society as “difficult” and by defining the definitions (and limitations) of success for women. Additionally, as pointed out in another review, this book spotlights majority white women. I fully believe that all of the women listed in this book are/were successful in their own and authentic ways and am not trying to discredit that. I believe the problem lies in how their stories are portrayed and who was selected to be included in the book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Scottsdale Public Library

    This compilation highlights 29 intelligent, notable women, ranging from Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to Shonda Rhimes. Their lives were messy; their lives were glamorous; their lives were imperfect. But above all, their lives exemplify what we can accomplish if we dare to be courageous and work hard to forge a path in this world. - Sara Z.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Biographical essays on 29 "difficult" women--I enjoyed it very much and learned a great deal. Some of the 29 women are: J.K. Rowling, Elizabeth Taylor, Josephine Baker, Carrie Fisher, Gloria Steinem, Janis Joplin, Angela Merkel, Kay Thompson, Nora Ephron, Lena Dunham, Eva Peron, Martha Gellhorn, and Margaret Cho. Biographical essays on 29 "difficult" women--I enjoyed it very much and learned a great deal. Some of the 29 women are: J.K. Rowling, Elizabeth Taylor, Josephine Baker, Carrie Fisher, Gloria Steinem, Janis Joplin, Angela Merkel, Kay Thompson, Nora Ephron, Lena Dunham, Eva Peron, Martha Gellhorn, and Margaret Cho.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sara Cutaia

    WOMEN RULE! I loved these small glimpses into the lives and backstory of the powerful women we all know and love. This allowed us to know and love them a little bit more.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    In the introduction to Karen Karbo's In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules, the author states that "a difficult woman is a woman who insists on inhabiting the full range of her humanity." This book profiles 29 women in modern history who do just that. Each chapter profiles one woman, beginning with a single word to describe them ("Fiesty" for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, "Indefatigable" for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "Determined" for Jane In the introduction to Karen Karbo's In Praise of Difficult Women: Life Lessons from 29 Heroines Who Dared to Break the Rules, the author states that "a difficult woman is a woman who insists on inhabiting the full range of her humanity." This book profiles 29 women in modern history who do just that. Each chapter profiles one woman, beginning with a single word to describe them ("Fiesty" for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, "Indefatigable" for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "Determined" for Jane Goodall) and a vibrant illustration by Kimberly Glyder. Karbo writes a short sketch of each remarkable woman, and her opinion of what it is that makes each of them "difficult". I am familiar with all of the names in the book, but I got an deeper understanding of women whom I didn't know much about, like "imperious" French fashion designer Coco Chanel, who gets a longer chapter (perhaps because Karbo's previous book was The Gospel According to Coco Chanel). People responded to her book about Chanel by saying it seemed that Chanel didn't seem like she was a nice person. Karbo would often say that Chanel was a "complicated, stubborn, ambitious visionary who transformed the way we dress, view ourselves in clothes and walk through the world. You need her to be nice on top of everything else?" People don't usually comment on ambitious men's "niceness". "Fanatical" Eva Peron gets a longer chapter too, and for those who only know her from the Broadway musical "Evita" will appreciate maybe the most complicated woman in this book. Peron came from extreme poverty (as did Josephine Baker), and as the mistress, then wife, of Argentinian President Juan Peron, she spent much of her time giving food, money and more to the poor in her country. She and her husband also refused to listen to any dissent, punishing those who disagreed with them, shutting down newspapers, unions, and impeaching Supreme Court justices. I also found chapters on Josephine Baker, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, and Janis Joplin fascinating. Angela Merkel's story- a research scientist who lived under Communism in East Germany to rise up and become a unified Germany's Chancellor and now the leader of the free world- gives smart girls everywhere hope. Many of us know Kay Thompson from the Eloise children's books, but her contributions to musical comedy world are innumerable. She was a choreographer, lyricist, vocal coach (Frank Sinatra owes her much), and it was her idea to have singers sing and dance at the same time on stage, instead of just standing at a microphone singing. The word diva was made for Thompson. Perhaps the most moving anecdote that Karbo shares is a personal one. She was in First Lady Hillary Clinton's West Wing office in 2000, and she was speaking with an engaging young aide. When Karbo asked her what was the best part of working for the First Lady was, the young lady's face "opened into a grin." She makes me feel smart!" That doesn't make Clinton difficult, but it speaks volumes as to who she is. In Praise of Difficult Women is a great read for Women's History Month. You can dip into it and read a few chapters while riding the bus, waiting at the doctor's office or in your car at school pickup. You're sure to find more than one who will inspire you to be a difficult woman. And if you want further reading about these remarkable women, Karbo shares her sources at the end, with further reading on her website.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    It’s a time of change for women right now. They are speaking out and being well, difficult in ways they haven’t been in quite a few years. Where it will all lead, who knows but it is certainly an exciting time to be reading about female icons. This isn’t a book about the conventional, exceptional women you might expect to find but rather women Ms. Karbo has found fascination. That is not to say that the profiles aren’t full of women who bucked their time and the system. They fall mostly in two ca It’s a time of change for women right now. They are speaking out and being well, difficult in ways they haven’t been in quite a few years. Where it will all lead, who knows but it is certainly an exciting time to be reading about female icons. This isn’t a book about the conventional, exceptional women you might expect to find but rather women Ms. Karbo has found fascination. That is not to say that the profiles aren’t full of women who bucked their time and the system. They fall mostly in two categories; politicians and women in the arts (movie stars, broadway, performers, painters – you get the idea.) There are a few outliers like Amelia Earhart and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What you don’t find are the difficult women of science. My thoughts on this are that Ms. Karbo wrote what she knew and she was fascinated with these women – and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact it made for some really thought provoking essays. I had a passing knowledge of most of the women profiled which speaks to their notoriety. I suspect, but I could be wrong, that younger women may not know as many on the list but the stories will bring these remarkable women to life for a new generation. I do question the use of the word “heroines” because while all of these women were indeed difficult, I am not sure that I would call Elizabeth Taylor and Lena Dunham for example, heroines. They both broke rules, they both certainly did what they pleased. Elizabeth Taylor was a talented actress with many, many problems. I don’t know a lot about Ms. Dunham but I know enough that I wouldn’t ascribe that description to her. There are others as well but I’m not going to go into all of them here. When I sat down with this book I thought it would be one of those books where you read a chapter or two, then put it down and go to your other book. It is not. I found myself reading chapter after chapter just as if it were a fiction tale. That is a testament to Ms. Karbo’s writing. It’s easy, compelling and despite the fact that one chapter had nothing really to do with the next I just wanted to keep reading. And so I did. I read the book in one day as a matter of fact and then I went and googled the few women about whom I was unfamiliar. Then I googled some others for a deeper dive. Gotta love the google. None of the women profiled are perfect. In fact, some of them are downright subversive. They all pushed the boundaries of their time and what was considered their place. They all have fascinating stories worth reading. Ms. Karbo tells them well. 4.5

  19. 4 out of 5

    Beatrice

    Some interesting portraits, but overall disappointing I found several of the chapters in this book fairly interesting, but others were just terribly glib. How hard is it to be a “difficult woman” when you’re rich and white as many of the women in this book are? And should we be worshipping addiction and mental illness as the purveyors of creativity? The author didn’t do this consistently, but the times she did were pretty jarring.

  20. 5 out of 5

    T

    2.5 stars. Sigh. All 20th to 21st century women and overwhelmingly predominantly white and American. No disrespect to the women profiled, as there were some interesting chapters on Rachel Maddow and Angela Merkel, but, as a reader from a white, educated, upper middle class background (aka privileged and fully aware of it), I’m bored reading about similar women. There. I said it. The author was lazy and unoriginal. There. I also said that. Books like these only perpetuate other books like these i 2.5 stars. Sigh. All 20th to 21st century women and overwhelmingly predominantly white and American. No disrespect to the women profiled, as there were some interesting chapters on Rachel Maddow and Angela Merkel, but, as a reader from a white, educated, upper middle class background (aka privileged and fully aware of it), I’m bored reading about similar women. There. I said it. The author was lazy and unoriginal. There. I also said that. Books like these only perpetuate other books like these insofar as everything is whitewashed and we never hear about the stories of women from other cultures and/or socioeconomic backgrounds. I want to hear their stories, please. I’ve read enough on Amelia Earhart. And Lena Dunham? Really? More of the chapters like those that spotlighted Margaret Cho, Shonda Rhimes, and Laverne Cox. Those, outside of Rachel Maddow and Angela Merkel as mentioned above, were a few of the other chapters I didn’t keep checking to see how many pages were left. In a sentence - start doing better, please. White American women don’t own the patent on being difficult, breaking the rules, and being heroic. We are global citizens in a world where, in some places, being a woman with these traits means certain death. I want to hear about those women. I want to hear about their struggles. So yes, do better. Think outside the boundaries of your color and culture. PS I originally shelved this on my feminism shelf, now realize my error, and feel like I should create a shelf called “wtf white women” or something. (When you wtf white people and you ARE white people is certainly apt here.)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Menna Elmanzalawy

    This was a nice quick read, but not what I had hoped for. Some essays were very good, the author shares many interesting stories of powerful women (here I'll avoid using the term 'difficult'- I'll come to that later). I especially enjoyed the chapters on Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Frida Kahlo, and Amelia Earhart. On the other hand I found the chapters on celebrity women very bland. I couldn't relate to these women, nor could I find the point of hearing about their stories. Maybe that's just This was a nice quick read, but not what I had hoped for. Some essays were very good, the author shares many interesting stories of powerful women (here I'll avoid using the term 'difficult'- I'll come to that later). I especially enjoyed the chapters on Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Frida Kahlo, and Amelia Earhart. On the other hand I found the chapters on celebrity women very bland. I couldn't relate to these women, nor could I find the point of hearing about their stories. Maybe that's just due to my pure indifference to the world of showbiz. One thing that annoyed me to no end is the author's use of the word 'difficult'. My first thought when I read the title was, "Oh, that's nice. Difficult women.. as in determined, powerful, and outspoken", right? Not entirely. The author often uses difficult as in selfish, immoral, and sometimes just plain intolerable. In one chapter she implies that a woman should feel entitled to receive the most expensive gifts from her partner, or to destroy her friend's marriage because she's suddenly in love with the husband. Uh, no thank you. I'm not on board with this. It also seemed that most of these women's "difficulty" arises from the fact that they were filthy rich and famous. Another thing that bothered me was the author's focus on some of the women's love lives, which were often messy. As another reviewer noted below, having more sex partners, or jumping from one relationship to another, doesn't make you a powerful woman. I, however, admire the success stories of all of these women. I think they all lived remarkable lives that are worth celebrating. It was an OK experience overall.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Garza

    I will admit to not exactly being a leftist voter. However I’m not a right voter either. I’m politically open minded and vote accordingly. That said, I felt like this book should be called In Praise of Politically Left Women. I get women like Clinton and Warren, we obviously know their political afflictions and they can still be showcased. I absolutely respect their achievements. Other women like Rowling... the author discusses how charitable and generous she is. Okay, great. All admirable quali I will admit to not exactly being a leftist voter. However I’m not a right voter either. I’m politically open minded and vote accordingly. That said, I felt like this book should be called In Praise of Politically Left Women. I get women like Clinton and Warren, we obviously know their political afflictions and they can still be showcased. I absolutely respect their achievements. Other women like Rowling... the author discusses how charitable and generous she is. Okay, great. All admirable qualities. Stop there. Then goes on to say how awesome she is because she votes for left political legislations. That doesn’t make you special or difficult. Half of the world does that. I’m not impressed. I do consider myself a feminist and I love the idea of celebrating difficult, and accomplished, women. I felt this missed the mark.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jan Lynch

    I actually only made it through about 70 pages, but not finishing doesn’t reflect on the quality of the writing or content of the book. The writing is witty and breezes along. As I am currently reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the premise of the book, that supposed flaws are not only acceptable but are a source of strength, serves as an amusing contrast to Alcott, whose emphasis is on virtue and self-improvement. What I tend to forget when picking up a collection is my preference for de I actually only made it through about 70 pages, but not finishing doesn’t reflect on the quality of the writing or content of the book. The writing is witty and breezes along. As I am currently reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the premise of the book, that supposed flaws are not only acceptable but are a source of strength, serves as an amusing contrast to Alcott, whose emphasis is on virtue and self-improvement. What I tend to forget when picking up a collection is my preference for depth and detail. Survey courses or books rarely work for me. Summaries lose me, even with clever humor.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maddison Foss

    Unfortunately, other reviewers are very right. This book is white-female centered, with very little representation outside that narrow box. Many of her chosen women also have many other sides to them, too, that are neglected by this narrative. The whole point seemed to be providing an account of how women are HUMAN and therefore also flawed in addition to being incredible, so when she missed some major points of contention, she didn't provide complete honesty, and I have less respect for that. I Unfortunately, other reviewers are very right. This book is white-female centered, with very little representation outside that narrow box. Many of her chosen women also have many other sides to them, too, that are neglected by this narrative. The whole point seemed to be providing an account of how women are HUMAN and therefore also flawed in addition to being incredible, so when she missed some major points of contention, she didn't provide complete honesty, and I have less respect for that. I still adore many of these women DESPITE those faults, and feel they should've been addressed. That said, the research, and the writing, make this book worth the read (but still do your research on some other incredible women that didn't make it into the pages of this book).

  25. 5 out of 5

    James Kennedy Public Library

    This book profiles 29 women deemed "difficult" when looking through the eyes of conventional societal norms. Basically, these women have been trail blazers in their field and when they dared to be true to themselves, outspoken, intelligent, career-driven, and not about to conform to societal norms just to make someone else happy, they were deemed difficult. Their male counterparts would and have been praised for acting the same way. I enjoyed reading about these women and finding out how they've This book profiles 29 women deemed "difficult" when looking through the eyes of conventional societal norms. Basically, these women have been trail blazers in their field and when they dared to be true to themselves, outspoken, intelligent, career-driven, and not about to conform to societal norms just to make someone else happy, they were deemed difficult. Their male counterparts would and have been praised for acting the same way. I enjoyed reading about these women and finding out how they've changed the fields they work(ed) in and how they are blazing a trail for other women.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This book introduced me to several powerful and strong women that I hadn't heard of ( Edie Sedwick, Vita Sackville-West, Diana Vreeland), and re-introduced me to women I thought I knew, but didn't know their whole story (Angela Merkel, Frida Kahlo, Janis Joplin). I liked how the author picked one word to describe why the woman might be deemed difficult and explained her reasoning. Although I liked the artwork of each woman, and the author's description, I still would have enjoyed photos of each This book introduced me to several powerful and strong women that I hadn't heard of ( Edie Sedwick, Vita Sackville-West, Diana Vreeland), and re-introduced me to women I thought I knew, but didn't know their whole story (Angela Merkel, Frida Kahlo, Janis Joplin). I liked how the author picked one word to describe why the woman might be deemed difficult and explained her reasoning. Although I liked the artwork of each woman, and the author's description, I still would have enjoyed photos of each woman.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was fine as a book of essays. Some of the criteria for "difficult" was just women being assholes. It's one thing to be labeled bitchy or difficult for things that don't get men labeled, but if you're just breaking contracts and doing drugs, that's more than just being a "difficult" woman. Also many of them had enough money to get by with being difficult and there was no examination and only one mention of how much easier that made their lives. But I did learn about some women I'd never hear This was fine as a book of essays. Some of the criteria for "difficult" was just women being assholes. It's one thing to be labeled bitchy or difficult for things that don't get men labeled, but if you're just breaking contracts and doing drugs, that's more than just being a "difficult" woman. Also many of them had enough money to get by with being difficult and there was no examination and only one mention of how much easier that made their lives. But I did learn about some women I'd never heard of.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    While I learned a lot about many of the women in the book, it was a bit of a slog to get to the end. The book was sorely lacking in several areas. There was no discernible order to the chapters and no reasoning for why these 29 women were chosen. The author's comments about her own life were awkward and didn't lend very much to the overall book. The chapters were a hodgepodge of details and lengths. Some women who lived to their 80s and 90s had very short chapters while others who lived consider While I learned a lot about many of the women in the book, it was a bit of a slog to get to the end. The book was sorely lacking in several areas. There was no discernible order to the chapters and no reasoning for why these 29 women were chosen. The author's comments about her own life were awkward and didn't lend very much to the overall book. The chapters were a hodgepodge of details and lengths. Some women who lived to their 80s and 90s had very short chapters while others who lived considerably shorter lives had very long chapters. Frustratingly, the author would also point out and dwell on the very insecurities that many of the women struggled with their whole lives. Why say that the woman in the chapter would have hated for ___ to be talked about and then do it anyway (and at great length)?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maddy

    I was frustrated that a book that, on the surface, is a staple of feminist reading, is actually far from it. Elizabeth Taylor’s life was told through her marriages to men and as a socialite, or as a victim to poor health. Where is Liz in all of this? The Steinem chapter was better, but still didn’t really read like a feminist wrote it. Even RGB’s chapter started as a reflection of the death of her husband and “best friend on the bench”. Ugh.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lauryn

    I devoured this book in a day. Another book about amazing women- although I really liked that each woman had a focal attribute which their individual story revolved around. The author wasn't afraid to provide her often hilarious 2 cents about each lady, which gave this book a lot more personality than previous "awesome women" books. I devoured this book in a day. Another book about amazing women- although I really liked that each woman had a focal attribute which their individual story revolved around. The author wasn't afraid to provide her often hilarious 2 cents about each lady, which gave this book a lot more personality than previous "awesome women" books.

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