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on 28 August 2014
An interesting look at six women from the flapper era, I have read about them before in general book, so it was a great treat to be able to learn more about them in detail, and how that decade in many cases became identified with them.
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on 20 May 2013
Not only is this a biography of six women in one - Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Josephine Baker, Diana Cooper, Zelda Fitzgerald and Tamara de Lempicka - it is also a biography of the flapper; the 1920s girls who broke the mould and irreversibly changed the status of women.

Mackrell has chosen six women from very different backgrounds and who lived very different lives, yet who still came to embody - even create - the flapper. I was only previously familiar with the story of Josephine Baker, so there was a lot of wonderful new material for me, and even though I have read a full biography of Josephine there was still fresh information and insight in this brilliantly researched and engagingly written book.

What makes this biography so brilliant is that it is grounded in the shared social history of these women - the culture and attitudes they faced, and the historical events that shaped them such as the shocking tragedies of the First World War and the dislocation felt by so many afterwards, the development of women's rights and the emergence of new popular culture such as the cinema and jazz music. They even had overlapping social circles at times, and Mackrell's recording of these details help give a full picture; the context serves to make the women's stories even more remarkable. Refreshingly, Mackrell is not in thrall to her subject and presents an objective and balanced portrait of the women, showing their flaws, weaknesses and sometimes downright unpleasant personalities alongside their achievements.

Appropriately, being a biography of the flapper, Mackrell details the lives of the women roughly up until the end of the 1920s, mostly coinciding with a peak or turning point in their lives. I found the epilogue, which sums up the rest of the women's lives more briefly, particularly fascinating; so many of the Bright Young Things dazzled in the 1920s but quickly and often tragically burned themselves out, yet some managed to transcend the era that had both formed them and been formed by them.

Especially with the Baz Luhrman's Gatsby film and 1920s-fever upon us, this outstanding biography is a must-read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 December 2013
Does artistic "genius" in a person evolve from some sort of emotional unbalance? How often do we find those who are acclaimed "geniuses" in artistic matters quite unable to function within the limits placed on them by polite society? Would a Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald or a Tullulah Bankhead - among others - be seen today as anything less than "high maintenance" personalities? In her new book, "Flappers", British author Judith Mackrell takes an engaging at six such women, all who came of age in the 1920's, and writes how that one decade influenced them and how they, in turn, influenced the decade.

Mackrell six subjects are British aristocrats Lady Diana Manners and Nancy Cunard, Russian/Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka, and three Americans; Josephine Baker, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Tullulah Bankhead. She traces their lives and loves prior to the 1920's, but really examines how each, in her own way and through her own artistic instincts, made Paris and London the centers of the new artistic world, with New York close behind.

London's West End was the scene of the American Tallulah Bankhead's earliest theatrical triumph, while British actress Nancy Cunard gained fame on Broadway in New York City.

However, Paris, in 1920, was already being seen as the main new capital of art. Many Americans and Britons had moved there to take advantage of the good financial exchange rate and to steep themselves in the literary and artistic works being produced. American black soldiers from the Great War had stayed in Paris; the racial discrimination faced in France was much less compared to that back home. The European Jazz scene was centered in Paris; those ex-patriot soldiers were a defining influence on the music played. And other expats, writers like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein (who had moved to Paris years earlier and established a Left Bank salon) joined artists like Pablo Picasso to make their creative names. But along with the artistic "air" in Paris, there were also drugs and alcohol to "help" the creative spirit. Sexuality was often blurred and most of the six women Mackrell writes about had homosexual liaisons.

But all six women "created". Either as writers - Diana, Nancy, and Zelda - or painters - Tamara - or as stage and movie performers - Tallulah and Josephine, all captivated the press and the audiences of the time. But what of the emotional imbalances most of the women struggled with throughout their lives? Exacerbated by drink and drugs and relations with questionable men? Or from the morals and mores of the time they all tried to free themselves from? Judith Mackrell does an amazingly good job of looking at the fullness of these women's lives during that one turbulent period of history.
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on 11 February 2014
This is a fantastically readable book - an indepth account of some of THE most "interesting" women in the 1920s. Not all of them would have enjoyed being called "flappers" of course. It gives a great insight into the society, the issues facing women, the inequality and racism.

Written in a really accessible style, the book is a great read, and I loved the way that Judith Mackrell split up the stories, so that you can really see what each personality was doing at the same time in the decade. Many of the ladies met each other of course, and interlinking these stories gives a much wider understanding of the time.

Great photographs, brilliant reading, and the biographies are inspiring and fascinating.
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on 4 August 2017
Concentrates on wealthy inhabitants of the flapper era, and misses the earthy side. I would suggest a seventh contender Alice Diamond. Alice Diamond and the Forty Elephants : The Female Gang That Terrorised London
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Judith Mackrell is the Guardian's dance critic and is the author of four other books, all non-fiction, and all based around dance.

Flappers, sub-titled 'Six Women of a Dangerous Generation' is a multi-biography. Judith Mackrell follows six women from the 1920s who between them were the faces of this generation.

Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka were either adored or scorned by the public. They were women who broke the mould, who dared to be different, to be independent and to be noticed.

I was instantly intrigued by the thought of reading about these six women, especially Diana Cooper as her family home; Belvoir Castle is not far away from where I live and I'd also recently read The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey which had aroused something of a fascination with the strange, almost dysfunctional Rutland family of Belvoir. Judith Mackrell has cleverly interwoven the six separate stories by only allowing each women two chapters each. Each has one chapter in the first half of the book, and one chapter each in the second. I thought this was an excellent way of keeping the reader's interest in each of the women.

There is no doubt that these six women caused chaos and controversy everywhere that they went. With the exception of Josephine Baker, each of them came from rich and privileged backgrounds and were able to use their contacts to achieve their aims of wealth, fame and, to some extent beauty. Surrounding themselves with the beautiful people of the day, dancing in the fashionable clubs and wearing the highest fashions, these women broke boundaries. Not for them, the stay-at-home, traditional female role, their aim was to shock, whether that meant taking drugs, lesbian love affairs, sleeping around or dancing naked in public.

Each woman, in their own way was damaged to some extent, and although Judith Mackrell has relayed documented facts in this book, her writing does not try to force an opinion upon the reader. It becomes our choice as to whether we can forgive such awful behaviours because of things that may have happened to Zelda, or Diana, or Tallulah in the past.

Beneath the glamour and the excess, the tragedy and the fame, this is the story of how six women changed the world for a little while. They were a new breed; daring and explicit and paved the way for women, especially in show-business and in art. Regardless of what we may think of their behaviour, there is no doubt that they made being female more equal and probably easier for generations to come.

The Pan Macmillan Reading Group Panel had a lively debate about this book. We particularly found it interesting to compare and contrast the six women and their lifestyle to celebrities of today. Comparisons ranged from Kerry Katona, to Katie Price to Courtney Love. There were also the parallels to the 1960s and also to some extent the 1980s, with the money, the drugs and the complete hedonism of that decade. Another comparison that would apply to the 1980s is the fact that the behaviours peaked before a Depression or Recession. We wondered just how far women would have moved forward without the disruption of financial collapse.

We all agreed that we would recommend Flappers to reading groups, even if groups do not traditionally read non-fiction this is written in such a style that it could almost be fictional. It most certainly isn't a dull list of times and dates, it's an entertaining and educating read. Groups that have enjoyed books such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Suspicions of Mr Whicher would certainly enjoy this.
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on 20 August 2013
A fascinating study of these talented women but one hat I found mainly sad to read. Apart from Josephine Baker who came from a poor and neglected background, the others came from wealthy and privileged families. They could have done so much more with their lives and their fortunes. But a mixture of rebellion and hedonism following the end of WW1 and the money to allow them to live a life style of decadence led most of them to lead lives fuelled by alcohol and drugs. Each if them had talent but most of them squandered it. I would recommend the book as a glimpse into the lives of the women at a certain time in history both in the UK and the States.
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on 11 June 2013
Well written,in stages to keep you informed of all six women thoughout the book .All strong personalities but all individual could not put it down.
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on 12 September 2013
This told the story of six remarkable women. It was very even handed and non judgmental. The women selected were all very different but live through a time of change and upheaval. A very thought provoking read. When I saw how some of these women fought and grasped their freedom, I thought how little progress we have made in the years since.
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on 23 May 2015
This a superb book and I can hardly put it down to eat my meals and go to work. These women, from a far-off world, which exists in our imagination, and which we know mainly from a few sensationalising-snippets on television; are brought-to-life here, to be revealed as persons-whom-we-may-genuinely-admire. I find these women admirable.
We live at a time when we may not live on our investments and interest-paid-on-capital is low. These women had limited capital and had no prospect of living-out-their-lives on the proceeds of their money. Their only capital was their own ability and sheer courage. This is the story of how they worked with this capital to generate their own success. These are stories of 'guts' and success.
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