Review and Giveaway: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

With the success of HBO’s Big Love and the recent raid on the polygamist compound in Texas, there is a lot of interest in the subject of polygamy.  The idea of a harem:  one husband married to multiple wives, underage girls marrying much older men, huge households filled with children, a community cut off from the outside world, women in prairie dresses and braided hair, husbands keeping “marriage manager notebooks” to keep track of how often they visit their wives’ beds- it’s fascinating and titillating subject matter.

David Ebershoff takes on this sweeping topic in his book, The 19th Wife, giving the reader both a contemporary murder mystery and a historical view of plural marriage.   The stories are parallel and not totally interconnected, allowing the reader to get the big picture- the history and it’s effect on current times- without confusion. 

There is the historical story of Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young’s wives, who divorced him after 5 years and went on to help end polygamy by speaking out about it.   Told with depth and clarity, from many viewpoints and with various fictionalized documents, letters, and research papers (even a wikipedia entry!), we get a good sense of the history of the Mormon religion, the early days of the church and its Prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and the divine revelation of celestial marriage that nearly caused it’s downfall. 

There is also the modern day story of Jordan Scott, a gay 20 year old who was turned out of an FLDS polygamist household, ordered by his father to be dumped along the side of a highway by his mother at age 14 because he was caught holding the hand of his step sister.  Jordan, living in California, sees a news story on the internet about his mother, also a 19th wife, being arrested for killing his father.  He travels back to Utah to see his mother in prison to find out what happened.  He becomes convinced of her innocence and proceeds to investigate, with the help of his mother’s attorney, his secretary, Johnny (a street smart 12 year old, also turned out by the sect), and Tom-also gay and estranged from the Mormon Church because of it. 

I liked both stories very much and think that together they make for an intricate and well rounded portrayal of the complex issue of polygamy; the reasons it existed in the past and why it is still around on the fringes of society today.  While reading The 19th Wife, I wasn’t clear on what was fact and what was fiction, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.  It wasn’t until I read the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements at the end that I understood that the documents were entirely fictionalized, which was fine except I wished I’d known that from the beginning.  It was all very realistic and believable.  

The 19thWife is a great book.  It drew me in and put me into the minds of people struggling with their faith, questioning their beliefs and their leaders, and wrestling with difficult decisions, something we all do.  And isn’t that what excellent historical fiction should do-present differing viewpoints and make you think?  This book is wildly successful in that area! 

You can visit David’s website for all kinds of fascinating info at  It’s interesting to note that in 1875, Ann Eliza Young really did write a bestselling and controversial memoir, Wife No. 19, and you can download and read the original memoir from David’s site. 

So, have I piqued your interest?  Want to read the book yourself?  If you’d like a chance to win a hardcover First Edition copy of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, leave a comment here by Friday, November 7th.   So sorry- this is only open to residents of the US and Canada due to shipping expenses. 

I received this book as part of David’s TLC Book Tour, and he also generously sent me a 2nd signed and personalized copy to keep (thanks, David!) but what’s up with that date?  My calendar says 2008! 

David Ebershoff has been all around the blogosphere doing interviews and guest posts.  Here’s his schedule if you’d like to follow his tour:

David Ebershoff’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, Oct. 15th:  Maw Books (Natasha got to meet David at a book signing!)

Thursday, Oct. 16th:  Maw Books (review)

Friday, Oct. 17th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement (guest post and review)

Monday, Oct. 20th:  She Is Too Fond Of Books (will have another post soon with David answering questions from readers)

**Check out this post at She Is Too Fond Of Books about a book signing with David

Tuesday, Oct. 21st:  Age 30 – A Year in Books

Thursday, Oct. 23rd:  A High and Hidden Place

Monday, Oct. 27th:  It’s All About Books (guest post) and review

Tuesday, Oct. 28th:  Musings of a Bookish Kitty (review and author interview)

Thursday, Oct. 30th:  Books on the Brain (giveaway)

Monday, Nov. 3rd:  The Cottage Nest

Tuesday, Nov. 4th:  B&B ex libris

Wednesday, Nov. 5th:  Anniegirl1138

Thursday, Nov. 6th:  The Tome Traveller

Friday, Nov. 7th:  Educating Petunia

Monday, Nov. 10th:  The Literate Housewife

Wednesday,  Nov. 12th:  Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, Nov. 14th:  Book Chase


49 Responses

  1. […] Thursday, Oct. 30th:  Books on the Brain (giveaway) […]

  2. Don’t enter me – I have the book. I just wanted to say I thought the book and your review were both great!

  3. I’ve had an ARC of this on my shelf forever, and I can’t wait to get to it. It sounds fantastic, and your review was wonderful.

  4. i would love a chance to win this book…feener44atgmaildotcom

  5. This book sounds so interesting! Please enter me 🙂

  6. Thanks for the chance to win! I really like the show Big Love. You’re right about how fascinating polygamy (and religion in general) is.

  7. I am a huge fan of Big Love. I just went and added this book to my list of must reads. I would love a chance to win it. Please enter my name in the drawing. Thank you.

  8. This sounds fascinating! Would love to read it.

  9. This looks like an interesting book. I’d like to read it and I blogged your giveaway here:

  10. I would love to win this book!

  11. Please enter me, on another topic have you noticed David is kind of dreamy?

    Here’s my email…Sararush at hotmail dot com

  12. the “marriage manager notebook” … I forgot to include that in my review, and I thought that was such an interesting concept; a little trivia didn’t know anything about until I read *The 19th Wife*.

    And a note on Sara’s comment … I met David at a reading at a local bookstore, YES 🙂

  13. I would love to be entered to win this book. Thanks!
    akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

  14. I’ve been a closet watcher of “Big Love,” and this topic fascinates me. Please add me to the giveaway!

  15. I’ve been vacillating about this book, but your review was good, so I’d like a chance at the free book.

  16. I have been so anxious to read this– please enter me in the giveawy! periabd1(at)yahoo (dot)com.

  17. I need to read this. I hate being the one person who hasn’t read that book that everyone else has read.

  18. I would love a chance to read this book. I love reading historical fiction, especially when it focuses on a different culture.

  19. Livng in Utah and knowing who Brigham Young is, I would LOVE to read this book.

    hawkes (at)

  20. Yes, I am definitely interested. Please enter me for the drawing.

    jgbeads AT gmail DOT com

  21. I first read about this one at A High and Hidden Place, and now your great review! I’m intrigued. I would LOVE to win a copy.

  22. I would love to read this book. I am trying again to win a copy…Here are my fingers and toes crossed that I will win one. Thanks for the contest and another excellent review.

  23. I’d love to read this book, Crossing my fingers!

  24. Great review ~ please enter me in your giveaway.

  25. I loved your review. It did make me very interested in the book. Please enter me.
    ayancey at dishmail dot net

  26. Great review! Please enter me

    shelle at molleautomotive dot com

  27. Great review! I just started reading this myself and it’s so interesting. I can’t wait to find out what happens. I’m looking forward to my tour stop.

  28. This is definetly on my TBR list. My own copy would be so much better than getting one from the library.

  29. Sounds very interesting. Please enter me in the drawing.

  30. Me, me, me! I’d love to read this book. I read all about it on Natasha’s book blog and thought it sounded super interesting. I can’t wait to see what all the other bloggers have to say about it.

  31. I’ve read so much about this book, I would love to win a copy.

  32. Don’t enter me, I just finished reading this & thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it was fiction, it was rich with well researched (F)LDS history, really giving the reader an inside view of Mormon’s founders (original ‘Prophets”) and polygamy.

    I agree with your review and how a good piece of historical fiction makes the reader think and question, The 19th Wife does that and more.

    Great read.

    BTW, I also read David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl – also, very interesting.

  33. Love your reviews! Sign me up for a chance to win. Thanks!

  34. I’d love the opportunity to win this book. Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

  35. Yes, you’ve piqued my interest. Yes, I want to read the book myself. This was another awesome review Lisa!

  36. This sounds very interesting. i remember visiting the home of Brigham Young in Salt Lake City years ago. It was very neat to see how they lived back in those days.

  37. Great review!! Sounds like a book that I would love to read. Thanks! 🙂

  38. No need to enter me as I’m part of the tour. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your review!

  39. Yep, you’ve piqued my interest. Enter me, please!

  40. I really want this book. Thanks for the chance!

  41. This sounds very fascinating — please enter me!

    bluebyrd24 at gmail dot com

  42. I would really like to read this book…please enter me!
    Thank you,
    darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

  43. sounds interesting, enter me

    though for me, I wouldn’t care whether it was real or fiction, and even knowing before reading didn’t change much for me, a good read is a good read

  44. I would love to read this book!! Crossing my fingers!!

  45. […] Lane Books S. Krishna’s Book Reviews Dreadlock Girl Reads Books on the Brain Musings of a Bookish Kitty Bermudaonion Reading, Writing and Retirement Presenting Lenore […]

  46. I came across this book in a bookstore and was immediately drawn into her story. What courage and strength!

    Kudos to the author.

  47. I read this recently and agree with your review. An excellent read, I was absorbed in the dual story lines and fascinated in an uncomfortable way by the plural marriage theme. I think Ebershoff captures the different eras beautifully with his use of language and all the characters seemed equally real and authentic.

  48. […] Books on the Brain […]

  49. […] Thursday, Oct. 30th:  Books on the Brain (giveaway) […]

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