REVIEW: Bad Girls from History by Dee Gordon
At first, I considered it refreshing to read a book dedicated entirely to the more unsavoury members of the female species. On paper, it’s a very credible idea. There are endless encyclopedia-type books out there dedicated solely to serial killers, criminals and infamous murders – so why not one dedicated entirely to the world’s deadly women?
However, encyclopedia style books are not for everyone. They can often leave the reader yearning for more information which the author isn’t able to provide within the short space they have available. However, when we consider that Bad Girls From History was never meant to be a detailed analysis of the life of these women, it allows the reader to enjoy the book for what it is.
Firstly, the book is broken down into six different sections: “Courtesans and Mistresses”, “Madams, Prostitutes and Adulterers”, “Serial Killers”, “’One-Off’ Killers”, “Gangsters, Thieves and Con-Artists”, and “The Rebel Collection – Pirates, Witches, Megalomaniacs, Exhibitionists”. Straight away, this allows for a more succinct reading journey. When I discovered that this was an encyclopedia book of sorts, I immediately began reading my preferred section “Serial Killers” rather than going through the book chronologically.
I wrongly assumed that the book would feature the majority of “known” evil woman throughout history – Myra Hindley, Rose West, Joanna Dennehy – but was pleasantly surprised that such monsters weren’t included (the author even puts a disclaimer at the beginning of the book saying she purposely omitted such well-known killers). Instead, the Serial Killer section is packed full of information about femme fatales who even I wasn’t familiar with. I consider myself somewhat a serial killer enthusiast and following this new information I did some of my own research to find out more about these little-known murderesses.
Surprisingly, I found very little outside of the basic information on some of these particular women, meaning the author must have really done her homework. Naturally, I was very appreciative that Dee Gordon had gone above and beyond to appeal to true crime enthusiasts as well as the layperson.
However, as mentioned earlier, I found myself craving more information about these killers which neither the book nor further research was able to provide. However, this is a testament to Dee Gordon’s research abilities. When it comes to cases which are decades old, much of the information can be lost to the ages. Therefore, there may not be much else to tell.
As someone not particularly familiar with historical figures, con-artists, adulterers, witches, or exhibitionists, I assumed that my interest would wane during these chapters of the book. However, surprisingly, I found these chapters to be even more enjoyable than reading about my preferred type of bad girl. By the final chapter (Pirates, Witches, Megalomaniacs, Exhibitionists), I found that the author’s writing style was able to quickly paint a picture of the bad girl in question, and then provide me with a quick rundown of her life and what made her such a figure of evil.
Although I was unfamiliar with the majority of these women, I found that Gordon had reduced their lives down to manageable, bite-size portions which I was able to effortlessly digest without. The short and to-the-point nature of the book retained my interest for the duration, and at no point did my attention span begin to slip.
Dee Gordon’s prose doesn’t read like a Wikipedia article, but she portrays the necessary information in a way which also adds some humanity to each segment. Her tone is mostly factual but there is still the sense that the author is talking directly to the reader. For example: “A glamorous man-eater, unfazed by criticism of her private life, Ava was the ultimate bad girl of the silver screen.”
Given the short word count dedicated to each entry, Dee Gordon works well with what she has. When it comes to the historical figures, Gordon manages to encapsulate specific time periods and specific ideologies which may not even be relevant in today’s world. When working with somewhere between 200-500 words, this isn’t an easy feat to achieve.
As I found myself craving more information about some of the lesser-known figures in this book (I have found myself returning to Pirates, Witches, Megalomaniacs, Exhibitionists several times already), this is indicative of Bad Girls From History serving the purpose it set out to: to provide mini-biographies of the world’s most deplorable ladies.
While I personally found myself able to consume this book in two or three sittings, the concept of the book lends itself to occasional reading during a brief period of downtime. For those who are looking for comprehensive, analytical life stories, this book is unable to provide the sustenance you need. However, if you’re looking to improve your knowledge of the identities of some of the world’s most heinous females, this book is the ideal starting point.