... [an] excellent and absorbing work of social and cultural history ... the book also provides an opportunity, set apart from the heated politics of abortion regulation, to reflect on the power we give today to legal authorities whose views about basic matters — like what it means for a man to sexually assault women — are so different from what we think, or want to think we think, now ... A second coda is emblematic of the delights to be found in this book, despite its grim subject.
... a probing work of historical nonfiction that exposes the gritty details surrounding the first published account of a rape trial in the United States. Set against the backdrop of a vibrant and burgeoning New York City fresh off the win of the Revolutionary war, Sweet’s narrative combines meticulous research with his extensive historical expertise to recreate a true-crime examination of the sexual duplicity inherent in early American society ... Sweet takes meticulous care not to usurp Lanah Sawyer from her own story. Instead, he produces a historical retelling that is decidedly pro-woman, highlighting a multitude of ways working-class females were held to an impossible standard of propriety. And by comparing 18th century mores with the ethos of today, he slams a gavel on the lack of progress society has made in 230 years regarding victim-shaming, abusing privilege and the female double standard ... delivers a fascinating dive into history while restoring Lanah’s place in her own narrative. Sweet even argues that Lanah’s disappearance into the mist of time could be how she reclaimed her autonomy. Once she was no longer available to be exploited, his hope is she found peace in her anonymity.
... colorful detail ... a deft interweaving of social portraiture and deeply researched analysis ... As a background to this long-forgotten episode, Mr. Sweet, who teaches at the University of North Carolina, delivers a richly textured portrait of class relations, political turmoil, sexual mores and daily life in booming post-Revolution New York ... By excavating Sawyer’s long-ago personal trauma, The Sewing Girl’s Tale opens a window on the tumultuous world of the early republic. What we see is in some respects lurid and shocking, but it also delivers a vividly intimate portrait of American life as the nation was coming into being. Mr. Sweet has given us a masterpiece of splendidly readable social history.