A Short History of Women

“In her luminous new novel, Kate Walbert weaves strands of five beautifully particular lives into a tapestry made from key moments in modern history ... a subtle and profound book, as thought provoking as it is moving.”
  —Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier


A Short History of Women opens in England in 1914 at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragette who starves herself for the cause. Her choice echoes in the stories of her descendants interwoven throughout the book: a brilliant daughter who tries to escape the burden of her mother's infamy by immigrating to America just after World War I to begin a career in science; a niece who chooses a conventional path—marriage, children, suburban domesticity—only to find herself disillusioned with her husband of fifty years and engaged in heartbreaking and futile anti-war protests; a great-granddaughter who wryly articulates the free-floating anxiety of the times while getting drunk on a children's playdate in post-9/11 Manhattan. In a kaleidoscope of voices and with a richness of imagery, A Short History of Women explores the ways in which successive generations of women have responded to what the Victorians called “The Woman Question.”

Select Reviews

“Ambitious and impressive… Reminiscent of a host of innovative writers from Virginia Woolf to Muriel Spark to Pat Barker…. A witty and assured testament to the women's movement and women writers, obscure and renowned.”Valerie Sayers, Washington Post
“Behind Walbert's … [story] is the fabulous circular construction of what it meant to be a woman in the 20th century or maybe any century… The prose is vivid and sympathetic, the characters believable.”Susan Grimm, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“A Short History of Women … is for any woman who has ever struggled to find her own voice; to make sense of being a mother, wife, daughter and lover. But it is not only for women…. Walbert's writing is rich. It reflects each period with such vividness, the reader is transported back. It never feels cliché or unreal. It brings the reader into the character's world and mindset.”Lisa Orkin Emmanuel, Associated Press
“Beautiful and kaleidoscopic … Walbert’s look at the 20th century and the Townsend family is perfectly calibrated, intricately structured and gripping from page one.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“With a sharp eye and deft touch, Walbert explores the ways women’s priorities and freedoms have evolved even as their yearnings have stayed remarkable constant.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Daring and devastating: twentieth century history made personal.”Kirkus
“Let us not ... domesticate Kate Walbert's remarkable novel A Short History of Women ... Walbert's characterizations are astute, and she captures complex, often contradictory emotions with lapidary precision.”Rebecca Donner, Bookforum
“An engrossing tale.” —Marie Claire
“…an elegant, ambitious exploration of how the choices and circumstances of earlier generations resonate for their descendants …”Eryn Loeb, Time Out


  • Named one of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of 2009
  • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award
  • Nominated, International Impac Dublin Literary Award, 2010
  • San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2009
  • Amazon Editors’ Top 100 Books of 2009
  • Library Journal Best Books of 2009
  • Seattle Times Best Books of 2009
  • Slate Best Reads of 2009