This Pulitzer Prize winning book is a must have for anyone interested in the Civil War, nineteenth century literature, women's rights, the lifestyle of settling the Western frontier, the influence of the British Aristocracy on American popular culture, and it could very easily be titled "How Harriet Works" (h/t to James Wood).
Harriet Beecher Stowe's life before and after writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was rich and intense, full of great pain and great joy, and Hedrick captures it in factual storytelling that is both compelling and restrained, and thankfully devoid of the sentimentality that is present in previous Stowe biographies. She puts important moments of Stowe's life, such as losing her young son in a cholera epidemic in Cincinnati, in an historical context that allows the reader a personal glimpse into her motivation as an artist and as an activist. Hedrick also handles dicier questions of intimate, same-sex friendships in a way that places them firmly in nineteenth century social mores, without portraying them as anything more or less than what they were.
If I have one critique of this marvelous text it is that Hedrick did not spend as much time as she might have done on Stowe's career in the late 1860's. That being said, the chapters she does devote to this time period are exemplary, specifically the chapter on "Woman's Rights and Woman's Wrongs", which is an excellent introduction to the split in the Universal Suffrage movement and the birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's and Susan B. Anthony's National Woman Suffrage Association.
An additional note for fellow Stowe researchers: read the footnotes in this book. Hedrick spent years working with the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center's archives while doing the research for her manuscript, and these footnotes are an invaluable guide to extant documents chronicling Stowe's life.
Entertaining, absorbing and wholly engaging, one need not be an historian or researcher to enjoy this work: it is the story of a life of a woman writer, told in a series of consecutive moments lived in a time of transformative change, a life that left an indelible impact that ultimately made our country more humane and just.