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Princesses Behaving Badly

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings - Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

This book was given to me as an uncorrected proof, thank you Quirk books! Opinions in this review may be different from the finalized book.


"Well behaved women rarely make history" is a quote that is famous for its misappropriated concept as well as who said it (contrary to many internet sites it does not belong to Eleanor Roosevelt, but a Harvard historian named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich). First, it was used to remark that many of the dutiful puritan women did not have a lot of personalized history because what they were doing was standard behavior for the time; however, it took on its own life as a call to arms of women breaking societal expectations.


This book, "Princesses Behaving Badly" by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, both reaffirms the idea as well as comments on how even extraordinary women sometimes have their legacies buried, famous cases in point Emperor/Empress Wu and Hatsheput whose successors did their best to bury the achievements. It serves as a neat little introduction to many historical women of note, some of whom you may have heard of and many more you haven't. Its chapters are brief and pithy, which can be the book's selling point as well as its major downside depending on who reads it.


A great point of note is that this book does not limit itself to the insanity that is European royalty, although they would have had more than enough material for a book if they had. The princesses here range from Kublai Kahn's formidable niece, a South American slave turned conquistador's advisor, the tenacious ruler of Ndongo, and more. Likewise, while most of the examples come from the last few hundred years, largely due to earlier records being notoriously hard to compile or verify, and unlike other historical non-fiction, McRobbie is usually careful to detail supposition from fact.


The downside is that McRobbie's magazine article writing style does not often use the practice of citing the provenance of these facts. For example, in the Khutulun chapter, she discusses a theory about the female warriors in Mongolian culture, which comes from Jack Weatherford's "The Secret History of the Mongol Queens" and apparently the finished edition lists it in the bibliography, but I feel it deserved a mention in the text when directly taken from another historian's opinion and first hand research. Also the amount of attention given to said historical people varies from chapter to chapter, with some notable figures being given a few paragraphs to others pages and some princesses grouped in chapters for one arbitrary trait when they could have just as easily been arranged by time or country for all the difference it made.


And that is essentially the dividing opinion of the book. For a reader who is just getting into the subject and wants an encyclopedia-like variety with basic facts, this is a great introduction. It's perfect as a coffee table book, an opener for conversation with "did you know that..." in small talk, or bathroom reader. However, major history nuts will probably just skip to the bibliography section and go straight to the sources that provide a more in depth and historically thorough narrative. In my opinion, I wouldn't have known all of the women described. The ones I had read about were still entertaining and the ones I didn't have sparked a curiosity in me.


And that is really the best reason to recommend it.