...[a] smart, informative and insightful cultural history ... Scutts underscores the advice common to generations of self-help books — and emerging, also, in contemporary fables like Sex and the City: women had to change themselves to catch a man and hold him, an exhausting, all-consuming effort to win what Scutts calls 'the dubious, high-stakes game of marriage.' Hillis offered a brave counterpoint to that message. And though her advice about bed jackets and bubble baths seems quaint today, her celebration of solitude, independence and integrity is, as Scutts reminds us, worth reviving.
The resulting book is itself a kind of a marriage, between Scutts’s academic training and her more personal engagement with Hillis as a flesh-and-blood character. The resulting book is far from a straight biography and offers instead a colorful dissertation on midcentury womanhood, exploring Hillis’ impact from several angles in order to sketch out a prismatic understanding of feminism and freedom at the time ... Scutts was smart to continually weave Hillis’ story into her diversions. This makes Hillis’ story feel far-reaching — she touched so many aspects of women’s rights and financial independence — but it also grounds an enormous history in a personal narrative ... One obscure woman’s story can be a vessel for understanding the lives of thousands; it is in doing justice to this fact that Scutts does justice to her leading lady.
...[an] eye-opening if often frustrating attempt to rescue Hillis from obscurity and to make the case for her as a proto-feminist ... Ms. Scutts, a postdoctoral fellow in women’s history at the New York Historical Society, is an assiduous researcher and makes some astute observations ... Far too frequently, though, the very, very wordy Ms. Scutts skitters off on tangents whose connection to the subject at hand is remote at best ... Rather more vexingly, The Extra Woman tells more than it shows.