Not Pretty Enough by Gerri Hirshey
The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown

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...a compassionate, psychologically complex biography, arguing the world from her subject’s point of view...At 500 pages, though, this book could have lost about a third of its weight without readers’ noticing.
-NY Times

Synopsis

When Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl first appeared in 1962, it whistled into buttoned-down America like a bombshell: Brown declared that it was okay— even imperative—for unmarried women to have and enjoy a sex life, and that equal rights for women should extend to the bedroom and the workplace. “How dare you?” thundered newspapers, radio hosts, and (mostly male) citizens. But more than two million women bought the book and hailed her as a heroine. Brown was also pilloried as a scarlet woman and a traitor to the women’s movement when she took over the failing Hearst magazine Cosmopolitan and turned it into a fizzy pink guidebook for “do-me” feminism. As the first magazine geared to the rising wave of single working women, it sold wildly. Today, more than 68 million young women worldwide are still reading some form of Helen Gurley Brown’s audacious yet comforting brand of self-help.

“HGB” wasn’t the ideal poster girl for secondwave feminism, but she certainly started the conversation. Brown campaigned for women’s reproductive freedom and advocated skill and “brazenry” both on the job and in the boudoir—along with serial plastic surgery. When she died in 2012, her front-page obituary in The New York Times noted that though she succumbed at ninety, “parts of her were considerably younger.”

Her life story is astonishing, from her roots in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, to her single-girl decade as a Mad Men–era copywriter in Los Angeles, which informed her first bestseller, to her years at the helm of Cosmopolitan. Helen Gurley Brown told her own story many times, but coyly, with plenty of camouflage. Here, for the first time, is the unvarnished and decoded truth about “how she did it”—from her comet-like career to “bagging” her husband of half a century, the movie producer David Brown.

Full of firsthand accounts of HGB from many of her closest friends and rediscovered, little-known interviews with the woman herself, Gerri Hirshey’s Not Pretty Enough is a vital biography that shines new light on the life of one of the most vibrant, vexing, and indelible women of the twentieth century.

 

About Gerri Hirshey

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For more than thirty years, Gerri Hirshey has worked as a features writer, columnist, reporter, and essayist at The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, and New York, among others. She has also written for O, The Oprah Magazine, More, The Nation, Food & Wine, Ladies' Home Journal, and Parade. Beginning in the 1980s, Hirshey was the first female contributing editor to Rolling Stone--she wrote celebrity profiles of numerous artists, musicians, actors, authors, and fashion designers. She is the author of several books, including Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, which is now in its seventh reprint incarnation, and We Gotta Get Outta This Place: The True, Tough Story of Women in Rock. Hirshey lives in New York City with her husband, Mark Zwonitzer, a writer and documentary filmmaker; they have two young adult children.
 
Published July 12, 2016 by Sarah Crichton Books. 529 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Not Pretty Enough
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Above average
on Apr 07 2016

Unlike numerous other biographers, Hirshey never falls into the trap of reductionism. Although Brown sometimes presents contradictions that cannot be easily resolved, the author portrays the complexities with skill.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Jennifer Senior on Jul 12 2016

...a compassionate, psychologically complex biography, arguing the world from her subject’s point of view...At 500 pages, though, this book could have lost about a third of its weight without readers’ noticing.

Read Full Review of Not Pretty Enough: The Unlike... | See more reviews from NY Times

National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Jennifer Senior on Jul 15 2016

Hirshey’s meticulous recreation of Brown’s single girl years in Los Angeles, where she went through 19 secretarial jobs and juggled boyfriends like plates, are alone worth the price of admission to this circus.

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