Mitch’s Book Review: “A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868, America’s Original Superstar” by Michael Foster and Barbara Foster

Michael Foster, author of the novel Freedom’s Thunder, and Barbara Foster, an associate professor at the City University of New York who specializes in women’s studies, have written an interesting account on actress and poet Adah Isaacs Menken.
A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868, America’s Original Superstar details the life of Menken, who was born in New Orleans to a Jewish, “woman of color” and a father whose identity is debated. 

Menken eventually moved to the Midwest, where she became an outspoken protégé of the rabbi who founded Reform Judaism. In New York City, she became Walt Whitman’s disciple. During the Civil War, she was arrested as a Confederate agent — and became America’s first pin-up superstar. Menken married and left five husbands. Ultimately, she paid dearly for success — she mysteriously died at age 33.
The authors have done a remarkable job of chronicling Menken’s life with information generated from special collections in the United States, London and Paris, books, periodicals, and photography. It was mentioned that Menken, until her death in 1868, was the prime suspect of the first celebrity photography, Napoleon Sarony. 
The authors show that her star power inspired poets like Walt Whitman and writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used Menken as the basis for the classic Sherlock Holmes supporting character of Irene Adler. Her popularity was fueled by a new advent of the period, mass circulation newspapers. Their reporters couldn’t wait to write about her latest adventure, according to biographers Michael and Barbara Foster, who call her the originator of the modern celebrity femme fatale.
A Dangerous Woman is an interesting read for those interested in women’s history, the roots of modern-day American Judaism, and African-American history.


NOTE: Review copy was provided to Mitch’s Muse by News and Experts.

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