“Bad Girls” – A Great Book About Women + History + Crime

bad girls“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

I love my library’s YA nonfiction section. Where else would I find books about female villains from throughout the ages?!

Bad Girls, subtitled Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, and Other Female Villains was a quick, intriguing read – it took me no more than an hour to finish its not-quite-two-hundred pages. My thoughts about it can be found below, so read on!

The book is made up of a bunch of short biographies (complete with illustrations) about the following women:

  • Delilah
  • Jezebel
  • Cleopatra
  • Salome
  • Anne Boleyn
  • Bloody Mary
  • Elisabeth Báthory
  • Moll Cutpurse
  • Tituba
  • Anne Bonney and Mary Read
  • Peggy Shippen Arnold
  • Catherine the Great
  • Rose O’Neal Greenhow
  • Belle Starr
  • Calamity Jane
  • Lizzie Borden
  • Madame Alexe Popova
  • Pearl Hart
  • Typhoid Mary
  • Mata Hari
  • Ma Barker
  • Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner
  • Bonnie Parker
  • Virginia Hill

A pretty diverse list, no? The featured villainesses were from ALL OVER THE WORLD. The first half (or so) of Bad Girls DOES focus more on European/African/Asian women and the second half features a lot of female gangsters/bank robbers/et cetera from America, but overall this adds up to a bunch of women from lots of different countries. And I loved this. I hate when books claim to cover “the world history of _____” and then talk mostly about the USA, with a smattering of other countries discussed here and there.

However, I think that might also be the reason for the book’s only shortcoming (in my opinion)! It seemed like the authors wrote about so many women that they ran out of room! Sure, some of the bad girls’ bios were six or eight pages long, but some got only two! It left me going, “Whoa, what?! Isn’t there more to her story?”

Bad Girls examines whether these women really were bad. I love books that make me think. And this one definitely did! After reading it, I came to the conclusion that:

  • Some of these women were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Some of these women lived so long ago that what we “know” about their deeds may be little more than fairy tales.
  • Some of these women helped as many people as they hurt.
  • Sometimes we ignore that that in a few cases, the “evidence” against these women is inconclusive at best.
  • Some of these women did not choose to go into crime – they were coerced into it by their parents and/or spouse(s).

And finally:

  • Some of these women – very few, really – were truly evil.

And oh, how evil those few were! They really made up for the not-quite-so-bad deeds of the other women! Let’s just say that if you’re ever in need of a good creepy tale for telling around the campfire late at night, google Elisabeth Báthory. I would have adored this book when I was a wee Engie because there’s a little bit of gore, a little bit of women kicking butt, and a whole lot of history. I was a weird child, OK?

Speaking of weirdness, I share my name with not one but two of these women! I’m not even sure why I’m telling you this, except that I am an odd little history nerd. Just a few days ago, the Notebook Sisters posted about how it feels to find a fictional character with the same name as you. Well, that hasn’t actually happened very often to me. So what are the odds that two of the undoubtedly evil women share my name? We need to start setting a better example!

I really enjoyed Bad Girls and honestly, I think most people would. What’s not to like about a wonderfully illustrated book that tells thrilling tales of adventure, mischief, and maldoing? It’s easily one of my favorite nonfiction reads thus far this year. Try it!

Rating: 3/5

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth, University of Iowa class of 2019. Double majoring in English & Creative Writing and Journalism. Twenty-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, and aspiring writer. Passionate about feminism and lesbian positivity.
This entry was posted in Books and Reading!, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to “Bad Girls” – A Great Book About Women + History + Crime

  1. matttblack42 says:

    Hee hee, I’m trying out my detective skills to figure out your name. The names that were repeated were Anne, Mary, and Bonnie. Mary’s a pretty common name but I can’t recall it being used in a lot of books. I can only think of one Bonnie, and I can’t think of a lot of characters named Anne. (Does Annie Wilkes count?) And of course, Lizzie is often used as a nickname for Elizabeth, so there’s that.

    After quickly googling the names and determining which ones were truly evil, I’ve come to the conclusion that your name is Mary. I hope I’m right, though I’ve always pictured you as a Cleopatra.

    (I’ll still be calling you Engie though.)

  2. Cait says:

    This book! I want to try it! Evil women…ah, what’s not to find interesting? Although, woah, they packed a heck-of-a-lot of people into 200 pages, so I can definitely see why at times it might’ve felt rushed. But mwahaha, you have a name with an evil legacy? What’s your future going to hold now, eh? 😉 And thaaaanks for linking to that post of mine!

  3. Artgirl says:

    Will definitely add this to my list, thanks! Sounds very interesting. And in relation to reading a book with a character that has your name—I’ve only ever read one. But it’s a brilliant book and the main character (who happens to be a writer!) I think is a lot like me, so it was really cool. I’m also reall attached to my online pseodonym Wren, which made reading Fangirl really weird because I’m not sure how I feel about her character.

  4. Mo says:

    Have you read any of the books by Jane Yolen about women pirates? The one I’m thinking of is called Sea Queens, but she’s written other ones… I haven’t actually read it but keep meaning to.

    Funnily enough, when I see characters with my name, it’s not at all weird because I somehow disassociate my name from my self… there’s a character in Harry Potter with my name, but I haven’t read a lot of other books that have my name in them.

    • nevillegirl says:

      No, I don’t think so. But maybe I should? Idk. Before I read this book the only other thing by Yolen that I’d read was this awful story in Am I Blue?. So after I finished Bad Girls, I was kind of surprised to realize that she had a story in that book too. THEY’RE SO DIFFERENT.

      Ahaha, no one in HP has my name! *pouts* But yeah, the character with your name KICKS BUTT and I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT WHEN I WAS LITTLE I DIDN’T APPRECIATE HER.

      • Mo says:

        I’ll try to get a copy of Sea Queens, and then I’ll give you my thoughts. Yeah, her story in Am I Blue? was just…bizarre. And terrible. But I vaguely recall reading one of her other books (I think it was called The Wizard’s Map) that was sort of in the vein of The Dark is Rising sequence and I liked it.

        Yeah. xD

    • nevillegirl says:

      OK GOOD I AM GLAD THAT YOU AGREE. Because apparently she’s a very-well-known author? And I read that Am I Blue story and was just like what even is this crap?!

  5. Ok wow this book looks awesome I want to go read it. *searches for it on the library site* …They don’t have it. W h a t. Why would you deprive people of a book solely on female villains oh my god.

    Seriously though, I am really jealous of your library’s YA stock. Around 75% of the stuff at my library is the typical angsty-teen-girl-goes-through-high-school stuff, and of the 25% left, most of that is werewolves/vampires-fall-in-love-with-teen-girl stuff. So, the usual.
    But you seem to find all this good stuff at the library––how do you do this do you have supernatural powers. (I am beginning to suspect your library is actually the one in the Tardis)

    • nevillegirl says:

      I know, right? That sucks. *hugs*

      My library is the one in the TARDIS! Every so often River Song wanders in and I admire her gorgeousness go on adventures with her and meet Ood and stuff. *nodnod*

      …no but for real, my library does have an amazing YA section. Actually, BOTH local libraries do. One has a separate room just for YA books (PLUS more elsewhere) and the other has so many YA books that they had to expand that genre’s shelving space recently. They actually have the bestest selection ever of LGBTQ+ YA nonfiction. And stuff about feminism. And aaah. It’s great. *will never stop fangirling about libraries* *or anything else for that matter*

    • nevillegirl says:

      Someday River and I will stop by your house in the TARDIS and take you to the awesome library of epicness. *nodnod*

  6. Lydia says:

    I read this at the beginning of the year. It was okay, but I had read Princesses Behaving Badly a month earlier, and much preferred it. So Bad Girls was a little underwhelming, I guess.

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