Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835–1868, America's Original Superstar

Barbara Foster and Michael Foster, Lyons, $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-59921-602-7
The beautiful and charismatic actress and poet Menken deserves a better biography than the tedious narrative delivered by the Fosters (Forbidden Journey: The Life of Alexandra David-Neel). Menken became famous for wearing little while dashing up an artificial mountain strapped to the back of a horse in Mazeppa, a popular play of the 1860s. She frequently dressed as a man, smoked cheroots, married five times, was an ardent Zionist, had male and female lovers—all before dying at 33 of consumption. Describing her theatrical itineraries in detail and repeatedly reporting rave reviews while dismissing negative critiques as products of prudery, the Fosters speculate on Menken's psyche, claiming to lay bare her "orphaned inner child." Clichés abound (in 1861 the U.S. "hesitated on the brink of war"; Menken's second husband "ran fast as a deer" from an illegal boxing bout; and her career was "like a shooting star"). Readers interested in Menken will find the authors' Web site (www.TheGreatBare.com) better written and more engaging. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
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