Book Reviews: Wicked Women, After Acts, Andy Warhol, & Plucked

Hello everyone,

what have you been reading lately? Here are my picks:

Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West by Chris Enss
During the late nineteenth century, while men were rushing to the Old West in search of gold and land, women of easy virtue, prostitutes, and gamblers, knowing there was a lot of money to be made, followed suit. Treated as outcasts and despised by polite society, these fallen women led tragic and adventurous lives, marred by crime and violence. Few chose the lives they led. Single women were very vulnerable back then, and many turned to a life of prostitution, professional gambling, and crime only after they were widowed, left orphaned, or were abandoned by their husbands. Resourceful and bold, a lot of them found ways to thrive in the Old West, but they all paid a high price for it.
The book introduces us to many wicked women, from the infamous Calamity Jane and Belle Starr, to lesser-known figures such as Josie Washburn, Nebraska's Reluctant Madame, and Ella Watson, Wyoming Cattle Baroness. Their stories make some fascinating and interesting reading. It's true that after a while, they tend to look somewhat similar, but that's no fault of the author. On the contrary, the similarities just bring home how few options these women had.
Very engaging, this short book flows easily, holding the reader's interest till the end. If you're interested in the wicked women of the Old West, I highly recommend you pick up a copy.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles by Bryan Litfin
What happened to the disciples of Jesus once the Bible was finished? Did Luke really write the Gospel that bears his name and signature? Did Thomas found the Indian Church? Was Peter really crucified upside down? New Testament scholar Dr. Bryan Litfin takes a hard, long, and clear look at all the available sources to try and answer these, and more, questions. Drawing mostly from contemporary sources, Liftin explores the myths and legends about these historical figures, and sets them straight.
Although an interesting and fascinating read, I couldn't help but be disappointed by the lack of personal information about each disciple. The chapters about the Evangelists, for example, focus on confirming their authorship of their works, but very little is mentioned about the rest of their lives. I'm not sure Liftin is to blame for that, though. These people lived so long ago that, most of the traces they've left behind, have sadly been destroyed by time. That's certainly the case for some of the lesser known apostles who, here, are just bundled up together in their own chapter, "The Other Apostles".
Despite its scholarly character, the book is very accessible even to casual readers. Informative and straightforward, After Acts is a great introduction to the earliest days of Christinity. Once it's over, you'll want to delve further into the early history of the Church.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Andy Warhol: A Biography by Wayne Koestenbaum
I'm not sure Koestenbaum's new book can be called a biography, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. Personal information about Warhol is intertwined into the narrative, but it always takes a back seat to his work. It's his art, his aesthetic and revolutionary vision, and the influences and impulses behind it that are the main focus of this book.
The book is divided in three parts. The first is dedicated to his early year and his work as illustrator and pop artist. The second, and longest, part focuses on the Factory, the people who were part of it, and the sexually charged movies they shot. The last part deals with the last years of the artist's life and his fear that he had lost his creativity.
Koenstenbaum skilfully brings the real Andy Warhol, with all his many contradictions back to life. And there were many contradictions. His art sizzles with sexuality, yet he was ashamed of his body. He loved the rock'n'roll lifestyle, yet he chose to live with his mother. He was a painter, but automated his working process as much as possible. He was afraid of aging, but started wearing a silver wig when he was still young.
Koestenbaum also makes Warhol's art accessible to everyone. He explains how Warhol's personal experiences shaped his art, where his obsessions with celebrity, money, death, sex, and time, which permeates all his work, came from, and why, still now, he remains a very controversial artist. If you've never been a fan, you may become one afterwards. If not, you'll get a better sense of how and why this weird and controversial man managed to revolutionize the art world.
Insightful and engaging, I recommend it to all those interested in Andy Warhol and modern art.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M Herzig
Who knew the history of hair removal in the US was so interesting? Removing body hair is a common, widespread practice that we all take for granted, but it wasn't always like this. This practice is not even 100 years old! Once upon a time, smooth, shaved skin was a sign of inferiority. The Europeans who both settled and visited America were surprised to find Indians had no hair on their bodies, and wondered whether it was due to nature or artifice. But pretty much all of them considered it weird, and just further proof of their innate superiority over the Native Americans. Back then, a big beard was a sign of masculinity and pride for a man, and those who married Indian women encouraged them to stop shaving below the neck. Only women with too much hair on their faces shaved, often with concoctions that were dangerous.
Then, things changed. As the evolutionary theory took old, an abundance of hair became associated with some deep, violent, animal instinct, insanity, and criminality (scientists even tried to prove a link between hirsutism and madness!). Smooth skin was now in. There was a lot of money to be made in this new business, so soon new methods of hair removal emerged. Pastes and waxes, which often left women scarred, became widely available in shops. Razors were improved to make them more effective and less dangerous. And when people realised x-rays made hair fall, salons started offering this treatment all over the country. Then, lasers were invented. But since then, research into new hair removal methods has stalled.
In Plucked, Herzig skilfully described how science, medicine, industry, and even porn shifted and shaped Americans' attitudes to body hair and the lengths they go to get rid of it. The topic may not be that pleasant, but Herzig makes it engaging. And this, despite the fact she writes in an academic tone. If you'd like to know more about why you (or the women in your life) are removing body hair, and why, despite the technological advances of the past decades, hair removal methods have remained quite rudimentary, I highly recommend you pick up a copy.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Does any of these books intrigue you?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.