Louisa on the Front Lines

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

This is a interesting look into the unknown parts of Louisa May Alcott's personal life. I found it written well and very interesting.
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Louisa on the Front Lines is a biography of Louisa May Alcott during a specific period of her life. The book mainly revolves around Louisa's life during the Civil War. For just a couple of months in 1862 Louisa was a Union nurse at a hospital in Washington DC. This experience effected Louisa in multiple ways that from her writing to her health. 

Now while I knew the story of Little Women it wasn't until my mid-30s that I read it, so I also did not know much about Louisa May Alcott either. This was a nice little glimpse into her life and some of the inspiration for her most famous writing. 

Samantha Seiple wrote this in such a way that even though it is filled with quotes it does not feel like a heavy book or boring non-fiction. If you like learning about others or want a book to get you into biographies give this one a try.
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3.5-4 Stars? - I recommend if you enjoy biographies, and like learning about inspirational people, especially women.

I haven't read many biographies, so I am finding this a bit hard to rate. On the one hand Louisa May Alcott was quite the woman: ambitious, forward-thinking, compassionate, dedicated, and accomplished. I found her story overall interesting, especially excerpts from letters she sent, and from her journal that were in her own words. However, I did find it a bit hard to keep track of some of the other people mentioned throughout the book. Particularly people involved in the war. There were also quite a few sections about other nurses or specific soldiers, that while related to Louisa's story... didn't always feel connected right away and left me asking myself who was who. I did feel like I learned a lot about the time period and the civil war, which was insightful. To be honest I struggle to recall many bits and pieces of history. Overall while short, this book wasn't overly gripping at first, but did pick up quite a bit around 35%. Once Louisa actually becomes a nurse I was much more invested in the story and situations. I felt like I could finally put a story or reality to the Civil War, and found all of her time as a nurse incredibly fascinating (and often disturbing). After the hospital section there are several other chapters where she goes on to do other things... which were ok, but not very gripping after the hospital part. Overall this book was interesting, I enjoyed learning what I did from it, and it made me want to be patriotic and help people... but most of it wasn't a page-turner. So again... I'm not sure how to rate this one. Perhaps biographies aren't my genre, even if I do enjoy the information. Maybe I'm more of a museum and visual learner of history? Glad I read it either way.
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Samantha Seiple brings us a much more frank look into the life of Louisa May Alcott and her family than I was previously aware of, and the time she spent in Washington as a nurse, as well as the illness that brought her back home to Pennsylvania and her writing history thereafter.  I was excited to receive this book, and the detailing of the life that produced such an independent, outspoken woman in a time of female suppression. This is a book I am happy to refer to friends and family.   

I received a free electronic copy of this biography from Netgalley, Samantha Seiple, and Perseus Books, De Capo Press, Seal Press in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
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A deep dive into the little known parts of Louisa May Alcott life as a nurse, Louisa on the Front Lines is a surprisingly intimate look at one of my favorite writers.  Louisa challenged everything that was put in her way - every single stereotype of being a 'woman' was challenged - and it's part of what made her  (and Jo March) so great. 

It's clear that the writer of this book had little to no respect to Bronson Alcott - Louisa's father - as. she should be. He was pretty much....the worst. Louisa took on the role of breadwinner to the family, working many jobs, while writing - because it's what made her happy.

While this book does reply on speculation a bit, it's still an enjoyable look at a time and person who i love so dearly.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I have loved reading about Louisa since I was a little girl,~ Louisa On The Front Lines is a well written history based book that reads smoothly like a fiction story.~ Thoroughly enjoyed it and have recommended it to my Mom but the local high school English Literature teachers.,
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“Louisa on the Front Lines” by Samantha Seiple is a wonderful novel full of additional information on the life of Louisa May Alcott. Already a huge fan of the author, and knowing quite a bit about her as a person, I throughly enjoyed learning even more about her time as a nurse during the Civil War. I enjoyed the historical additions that were added to help give reference and to set the scene. Both aspects tied in quite well. This is a must read for anyone interested in American history, Civil War enthusiasts, anyone that is a fan of Alcott, or just someone wanting to learn more about the beginnings of nursing as we know it today. Great read!
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Truly enjoyed this book.  Louisa May Alcott has been one of my favorite authors since childhood.  I fondly remember search the local library for everything she ever wrote about "the family she created".  In my mind Louisa and Jo were interchangeable.  The Louisa I didn't know about was in the pages of this book, the Louisa who was a runner, avid for a woman's right to vote, to work, to receive fair pay and  abolition of slavery.  During the Civil War, she was the family member who went to war, nursing soldiers back to health and caring for the dying.  In her books, she often pictured herself as a wild, unruly colt.  This Louisa had a heart of gold and worked hard to keep her family out of debt.  This book is for every person who ever spent an afternoon  reading one of her classic novels.
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This is a short but engrossing book about Louisa May Alcott's service in nursing during the Civil War. Taken from Louisa's diary and other family documents and previous biographies, Seiple introduces us to Louisa and her eccentric and poverty-dogged family (including her hapless father Bronson, with his philosophical and pedagogical ideas before his time), and also to a blacksmith named John Surhe, who would become the central character in Louisa's first successful work, Hospital Sketches, and also to the tough, independent hospital matron, Hannah Ropes, and how this experience "made" Louisa, but also ruined her health.

Seiple's narrative is brisk, engaging, and enjoyable as she introduces the various "players" in Louisa's war experiences and recounts her difficult nursing situation (bad food, suffering patients, endless duties). Using Alcott's own words as much as possible gives us a better idea of the unusual woman she was: for equality of races, for not pigeonholing women into motherhood, even for recreation (Louisa's favorite exercise was running, which was unheard of in a woman of her age; she'd probably jog and run marathons today).

However, I hope this is edited before it is published in February. The author states that General Ambrose Burnside invented "a carbine for [my emphasis] guns that would help the cavalry load their weapons faster." Evidently Ms. Seiple knows nothing about firearms. A carbine is a rifle, albeit a shorter barrelled one. Burnside invented a new kind of carbine that fired more quickly because it had a cartridge rather than a bullet that had to be loaded with loose gunpowder and then tamped down with a ramrod. A carbine is not some sort of attachment for a rifle to make it load faster, which is what the sentence makes it sound like. (I looked this up; somebody else with something to do with this book could have as well.)
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As an avid Louisa May Alcott fan since childhood, I was eager to read this book which purports to focus on the period she spent as a Civil War nurse in Washington, D.C. -- a lesser-known chapter in her life. While the book does contain some interesting passages regarding that period, that particular section of the book is all too brief. More research into other figures from the Washington period (Dorothea Dix, for example) might have provided additional substantive material. One of the book's bright spots is the author's inclusion of numerous observations by Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (Mrs. Nathaniel Hawthorne), a Concord neighbor and close friend of the family, which I had not previously read. 

A significant portion of the first half focuses on Alcott's life and relationships with her parents prior to her time in Washington; there is more than enough rationale provided for her decision. Therefore, with many previously published excellent biographies, a reader already familiar with her life (likely the group most interested in this title) may find it somewhat dull and repetitive. Additional well-known facts follow the war period; these are also readily available throughout previous publications of Alcott's diaries and journals. 

The book ends abruptly some time before Alcott's premature death. While vaguely acknowledging, in the middle of another discussion, the role that war service played in shortening her life, it seems strange that the author would not, in a linear fashion, see the story through to her death. I was troubled by the decision to refer to Alcott as "Lu", which is too familiar for an adult biography. Especially during the early period of Alcott's life, this book's language exists at a very basic level. I had to go back to the information to confirm that it was not written as a Juvenile or Young Adult book (which arguably would have provided more rationale for use of the nickname "Lu"). 

While I might recommend this book to an avid fan of Louisa May Alcott, who just wants to glean the smallest unknown fact, I found that it contained little new information. The section which does highlight her war service is too brief for this to be promoted as an account which focuses primarily on that period. 

For some of us, any tidbit on Louisa May Alcott is bound to be fascinating, thus the three stars rating instead of just two. But overall, this book disappointingly fails to live up to the promise in its title. 

Note: I received an advance reading copy from NetGalley and Seal Press; this is my honest review.
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Unfortunately, I was unable to read and review this book due to poor formatting. Typefaces were illegible in some instances. I would be happy to review this again once these problems are corrected.
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This is a truncated summary of Louisa May Alcott's life, focusing on her very brief tenure as a nurse during the Civil War. The author used the nickname Lu in place of her full name in which to refer to Louisa. I found that usage to be overly familiar and very undignified. Seiple's work contributes nothing new nor significant to the canon of Alcott's life.
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Louisa on the Front Lines
Louisa May Alcott in the Civil War
by Samantha Seiple
Perseus Books, Da Capo Press
Seal Press
Biographies & Memoirs ,  History
Pub Date 26 Feb 2019


I am reviewing a copy of Louisa on the Front Lines through Pereseus Books and Netgalley:


 This book focuses on the least known aspect of Louisa May Alcott’s career, her time spent on the frontlines.  Her time there was short but the experience was a pivotal one in forming her best loved classic Little Woman.  It also effected in a deep way her tenuo relationship with her Father and it inspired her commitment to Abolition.  Through out her time there she wrote letters to her family as well as kept a journal.    The letters were first publi in The Newspaper and then in her book hospital sketches.  The book and the letters brought to light the horrid conditions in the military hospitals as well as the suffering the wounded soldiers endured.


To this day Louias May Alcott considered her work a pioneering account of military nursing.


I give Louisa on the Frontlines five out of five stars!


Happy Reading!
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This was an amazing book...I had no idea about this part of Louisa's life! It was so fascinating! I loved her before I read this book, now I love her and her bravery even more.
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I’ve loved Louisa May Alcott and was fascinated by her from my first reading of Little Women.Reading about her on the front lines and also learning about her home life kept me involved in her life another interesting chapter for me to learn more about her.#netgalley #perseusbooks
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Louisa on the Front Lines by Samantha Seiple recounts the little-known story of Louisa's experience as a nurse and how it affected her life and her writing. 

At a time when women were considered to be weak physically and intellectually, Louisa May Alcott challenged every stereotype of her sex, from running through the streets for health to supporting a woman's right to vote

Her father Bronson Alcott's extreme idealism made him unsuitable as a father of a large family. His wife Abby worked any job she could find to support them. Lu took the burden of breadwinner on herself, working in various jobs "suitable" for a gentlewoman and by writing sensational stories. She was expected to marry and thereby help her struggling family but preferred independence. "I'd rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe," she wrote.

When the Civil War broke out, Lu watched the young men march off and felt frustrated with merely sewing "for the boys" and making lint for the hospitals. The establishment of the Sanitary Commission and appointment of Dorothea Dix as superintendent of female nurses led to a call for the first women nurses. A nurse had to be single, over thirty, and "plain." Lu applied and, with her family's blessing, traveled to Washington, D.C. to work in a hospital. 

It is all very well to talk of the patience of woman; and far be it from me to pluck that feather from her cap, for, heaven knows, she isn't allowed to wear many; but the patient endurance of these men, under trials of the flesh, was truly wonderful. Their fortitude seemed contagious, and scarcely a cry escaped them, though I often longed to groan for them, when pride kept their white lips shut, while great drops stood upon their foreheads, and the bed shook with the irrepressible tremor of their tortured bodies. from Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa wrote Hospital Sketches about her experiences, the first to document life for nurses during the war. It was a sensation during her lifetime. Somehow, we have forgotten this part of her life. 

In vivid detail, Seiple recounts the hard work and long hours in a subpar facility, the suffering of the boys, the awful food, the ineffectual medical treatments, the high death rate, and how workers stole from the supplies and the wounded. Lu realized the importance of her role as surrogate mother, sister, and wife for the suffering and dying men.

....at the Hurly burly Hotel, disorder, discomfort, bad management, and no visible head, reduced things to a condition which I despair of describing. from Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

The experience changed Lu's life. She had seen the world, became close to the dying boys, and had contracted typhus and became mortally ill. Bronson brought Lu back home and she survived, although her health never fully returned. 

Having lived fully, profoundly affected by the men she nursed, Lu went on "to create characters and stories that would transcend the page and full her readers' hearts." Including her most famous novel, Little Women.

I very much enjoyed Louisa on the Front Lines. Although it focuses on the few months Lu spent as a nurse, there is enough background information on her family and life to provide a fuller context. The battlefield is brought to life as a background to the men Lu nursed. It is a moving story.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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I've adored Louisa since I discovered Little Women at the age of nine.  I've read everything  by and about her that I could get my hands on.  This is a very well researched, very well written biography.  It centers largely on her work as a nurse in the Civil War with discussion of other parts of her life as well.  The Civil War chapters were by far the most compelling and added to our understanding of how that experience influenced her writing style.
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#LouisaOnTheFrontLines #NetGalley 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.It was historically accurate and I thank NetGalley for the ARC.
Louisa or "Lu " as she was called by her family struggled for much of her life. Her father was not supportive of much that she did until later years. Her father, Bronson Alcott was a difficult man both within and without his family.
I appreciated learning about LMA's wartime service as well as her family life, which I was unaware of. A great deal of the book relied on journals, letters and actually were just quotes and perhaps could have been worked into a storyline a bit better.
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This book is a loving examination of one of the lesser known times in LMA's fascinating life.  It's a relatively quick read, but it's insightful and really does help bring a stronger sense of understanding and awareness to this brief but extremely influential part of her life.  If you like nonfiction books that read like novels, then you'll definitely warm to the style Samantha Seiple uses to tell LMA's story.  As a general rule, I'm not a huge fan of that style because authors tend to rely on speculation rather than actual fact, which can muddy up the authenticity.  (Example not quoted from any book, just one I'm making up on the spot to make my point: As Eleanor Roosevelt walked down the stairs, her breath quickened, and her heart raced with anticipation of the night to come. 
 She wondered achingly what the evening ahead held in store for her.) However, it seems that Seiple probably did have a lot of primary sources from LMA that express LMA's feelings, thoughts, and even particular actions she might have done in her morning routine or how she held a pitcher, etc. since LMA was naturally a descriptive writer when it came to seemingly insignificant details.

That being said, the book feels more like a narrated version or an annotated edition of LMA's collected journals.  About 75% of the book felt like it was just a retelling of the journals due to the high amount of direct quotations from the original documents.  While that's not always a bad thing, I tend to think I could probably get the same experience out of reading this section of her journals combined with Hospital Sketches.  Now THAT being said, if you're someone who's interested in just this particular period of LMA's life, and you have no interest in reading the rest of her journals, then this is a great kind of Cliffsnotes that far exceeds adequate.  Other people's perspectives (friends, family members, fellow nurses, etc.) of LMA's work as a nurse and personality are included, an addition that is invaluable and definitely can't be found if reading Hospital Sketches or LMA's journals.

Overall, this book illuminates a part of LMA's life that doesn't receive a lot of attention, and it does it well.  If you like quick reads, novel-esque nonfiction books, and women's history, then this book is definitely worth a read!
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I appreciate this author’s commitment to insulting Bronson Alcott every time she brought him up. Mad respect.
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