HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Karen Abbott

New York Times Bestselling Author and Historian


  • Women's History
  • General History
  • History of Sex/Sexuality
  • Nonfiction Writing/Research
  • Biography
  • Civil War Espionage


New York
More Media

Karen Abbott (the “pioneer of sizzle history,” according to USA Today) is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second CityAmerican Rose, and, most recently, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy (Harper), which was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal and Amazon. She has written for the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian magazine, Salon, and other publications. Her Smithsonian profile of a rich recluse was named by The Atlantic as one of the best articles of 2013. She has also contributed to several anthologies, including Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex (Harper), edited by Erica Jong.

Abbott is a popular speaker at literary festivals, book clubs, libraries, historical societies and organizations, Civil War symposiums, women's groups, social clubs, and universities. She speaks about a wide range of topics: the Civil War, women's roles in the Civil War, the history of espionage, the history of sexuality, popular entertainment during the 1920s and 1930s, and underworld characters and crime. She also frequently teaches workshops on nonfiction proposal writing, the art of historical research, and the craft of narrative nonfiction.

Abbott is a native of Philadelphia, where she worked as a journalist, covering media, politics, crime, and (her favorite) shady underworld characters. She now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots, Poe and Dexter. She's at work on her next book, a tale of a Gilded Age con artist, and occasionally moonlights as a private eye.

Praise for Karen Abbott:

"Richmond has deep associations with the Civil War and with one of the women portrayed in Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. So having her speak at the Virginia Historical Society was the perfect match. The standing-room-only crowd thoroughly enjoyed her engaging and, at times, humorous lecture. Karen truly brought the four fascinating women, whose stories she tells in her book, to life. She will always have a standing invitation to speak at the VHS."

--Graham Dozier, Virginius Dabney Editor of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography and Coordinator of the Banner Lecture Series, Virginia Historical Society

"Creating a series about Chicago’s dark and seedy side would have been incomplete without having Karen Abbott discuss her best-seller Sin in the Second City.  Karen not only provided a thrilling lecture to a packed house, but she also led an engaging city tour the day before.  When her flight into Chicago was re-routed to Milwaukee due to poor weather, Karen went above and beyond and made her way to the Windy City for her commitment.  Both events were sell outs and were the anchor to the whole series.  We have continued to receive positive feedback from her participation and I cannot wait to work with Karen again.”

--Liz Garibay, Historian/Director of Public Programs, Chicago History Museum

“Karen won the hearts of everybody in the audience—not only those that had a seat, but those who stood the entire lecture because she knew exactly how to engage them. Karen has a unique ability to combine education and entertainment without sacrificing scholarship. Her presentation about female Civil War spies was wonderful—not only the prepared comments but the answers to many questions from the audience, who all enjoyed her sense of humor. I would love to have her anytime and could probably fill the room again with the same book."

--Judy Miller, Deputy Director of the Filson Historical Society

“Jackson Hole, Wyoming residents were lucky to experience Karen Abbott through two distinct programs sponsored by Teton County Library: an evening author talk featuring a slideshow on her latest book, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, as well as an intimate writing workshop where Karen shared insight on how to craft compelling narrative nonfiction.  Both programs were of quality, well-organized, and thoughtful. In addition to great programs, Karen is easy to work with throughout the planning process, and in person, she is personable and very generous with her time and expertise.”

--Leah Shlachter, Adult Program Coordinator, Teton County Library

Praise for Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy:

“With this book, Karen Abbott declares herself the John le Carré of Civil War espionage--with the added benefit that the saga she tells is all true and beautifully researched.”

--Erik Larson, bestselling author of Devil in the White City

“Gripping... a remarkable story of passion, strength, and resilience.”

--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“Karen Abbott’s powerful narrative is first rate American history about a fascinating, little-known chapter of the Civil War, as well as a compulsive, thrilling saga of espionage. Brilliant storytelling, highly accessible, and impossible to put down.”

--Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove

“Abbott…[reveals] in such vivid detail the extraordinary lives of women who involved themselves so dangerously in the Civil War. This is that rare work of history that reads like a novel -- and a really good one at that -- and in which the truth is more thrilling than fiction. ”

--Michael Korda, NY Times bestselling biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and T. E. Lawrence

“Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy by Karen Abbott is a masterpiece of narrative storytelling, backed by impeccable research and extraordinary material. I was gripped by every page.”

--Amanda Foreman, author of the award-winning best sellers Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: A Epic History of Two Nations Divided

“Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a masterwork of suspenseful plots and unforgettable characters rendered in exacting, gorgeous detail-a brilliant new take on the heroines and villainesses of the Civil War.”

--Lydia Netzer, author of the New York Times notable book Shine Shine Shine

“With Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbott has taken history and written it with the eloquence of good fiction. Halfway through her book, I decided Ian Fleming could not have invented better spies…nor have written about them with any more suspense.”

--Robert Hicks, New York Times bestselling author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country

"Thrilling, illuminating, heart-pounding. Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy reads like a crackling espionage novel...Karen Abbott brings to vivid life four of extraordinary and audacious women, and runs glorious roughshod over all our traditional notions of the role of women in the Civil War."

--Megan Abbott, Edgar-award winning and New York Times bestselling author of Dare Me and The Fever

“Beautifully written, meticulously researched, and paced like an edge-of-your-seat-novel---I love this big, ambitious, unstoppable book.”

--Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of Gods in Alabama and Someone Else's Love Story

"The subjects of Karen Abbott’s gripping story Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy leap up -- and almost off -- the page… an irresistibly good tale of Civil War espionage and a reminder that the heroes of our history are often found in the most unexpected places."

--Deborah Blum, New York Times bestselling author of The Poisoner's Handbook