I enjoyed much of this book, but something troubles me. The subtitle is "The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother." The premise of the book is that no one has ever looked at the relationship between Louisa and her mother; instead, biographers have focused only on the relationship between Louisa and her father.
That troubles me a bit, because I seem to remember reading other books about the Alcott family, where Abigail (Marmee) is an important figure. And even if my memory is incorrect, anyone who's read Little Women and knows that it's deeply (if not completely) autobiographical must realize how important the author's mother was to her. After all, Marmee is a central figure of that novel, while Mr. March is away most of the time.
So I don't know. The author of this bio is a distant cousin of Louisa's, and as such has some proprietary feelings toward the Alcott family. The passion she demonstrates in her scholarship is exemplary, and there were many aspects of the Alcotts' lives I wasn't aware of. I knew they were abolitionists, but wasn't aware of their early work for equal rights for women. I knew Bronson was, shall we say, problematic in terms of caring for his family, but didn't realize just how awful he truly was. I'd forgotten Louisa died at 55--relatively young, and after what could best be described as a life of utter toil and little pleasure.
So, yes, I learned things. However, I think this could have used a heavier editorial hand. There are mind-boggling descriptions of this relative and that relative, to the point it's hard to keep them straight.
And while this provides a great portrait of Abigail herself (who ranks up there with Sophia Tolstoy as one of the most beleaguered wives ever), Louisa is a bit more thinly drawn. Someone on Goodreads commented that they thought this would have been a better book if it had focused on Abigail and her brother Samuel, and I tend to agree. Abigail's brother was a critical component in Abigail's survival. He often provided money, of which there was never enough in the Alcott household, and he himself put his own career and livelihood at risk by supporting first the abolitionists and then the women's rights groups.
The author does succeed in positioning Abigail as a critical force in Louisa's life, but again, I'm not 100% convinced that was at question. Still, if you're interested in the Alcotts, or in the battles for freedom for slaves and women, this is a great starting point.