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Behind Every Great Man:
Is a Book About Their Women

May 08, 2015

In writing this book, Marlene Wagman-Geller, shined the spotlight on 40 forgotten wives, mistresses, and partners whose significant others were typically bathing in. 

As Wagman-Geller writes in her introduction, "Over the centuries, the saying, 'Behind every great man is a great woman' has proven to be more than a girl-power chant. As it turns out, the long shadows cast by alpha males through-out history have obscured many stories of truly intriguing women who acted as their right hands and muses, the magicians behind the screen. For these intrepid females, supporting their famous husbands and partners by helping them achieve their destinies was frequently a Herculean task, accomplished in spite of sagas of alcholism, infidelity, breakdowns, divorce, and dispair. How did these women do it?"

That's the big question! 

While I enjoyed reading about ladies such as Mrs. Alfred Hitchock, Mrs. Douglas MacArthur and Mrs. Albert Einstein, this book was also frustrating! Not because of the writing, because of the minds of both the men and women involved in the relationships! What were they thinking? There's a certain faction of the population that thrives on drama, and Wagman-Geller found 40 examples here.

While reading the stories I ended up shaking my head wondering why some of these women pursued or stayed with these genius jerks. Then there were other women you simply rooted for for being strong to the core.

So here's what I liked about the book:

1) Wagman-Geller's humor. She delights in play on words and weaving in tidbits of history in a very fun way that you end up chuckling even though some of these marriages were tragic comedies.

2) I loved learning new things about the behind the scenes of our male geniuses. (I did cheer for the women who put up with their husbands and finally got a pay off.)

3) The way the stories are presented it's an easy book to pick up, read a few stories, then put down without losing the thread of the storytelling since each couple is a story unto itself. Made for great before-bed reading.

4) That she included a lesbian couple - Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas.

5) This book would be a good addition to Women in History Month. 

Stuff I didn't like:

1) It's not Marlene, it's me. My brain can't seem to keep track of the lineage of a person when an author writes stuff like: this woman was the younger sister of so-and-so who was a famous artist who married another famous person the second time around whose father was a scientist and stepfather of her older brother's wife. That kind of information overload is hard for me to follow. You might love that kind of puzzle!

2) Sometimes her cleverness and the incorporation of the factoids distracted me from the story, so I'm thinking this book would be best to read twice, once for the stories, twice for the trivia.

In my correspondence with the author she mentioned in an email that she thinks the book could well be converted in a middle school/high school text to accompany social studies/history classes. And I agree. 

I received a free book from the publisher for a fair and unbiased review.

2015 Sourcebooks, Inc., $16.99 U.S.


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