“A well-researched, timely, and absorbing book,

it challenges many of our prejudices about how our immediate ancestors thought, and invites us to enquire more closely into how and when and why families keep secrets and guard their privacy.”

—Hilary Mantel, author of Bring Up the Bodies

“In chapters that are gems of archival ingenuity

and subtle argumentation, Cohen politely demolishes received wisdom, deftly framing a genealogy of our confessional present that honors the complexity and strangeness of the past."

—Sharon Marcus, author of Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England

“With empathy and compassion Deborah Cohen

brings her characters to life and through them offers a daringly original meditation on the shifting functions of secrecy and disclosure in British society….The result is a remarkably original study of great eloquence and insight.”

—Chris Waters, Williams College

“This book is a triumph of new social and cultural history,

making us de-naturalize that most natural of our social units, the family unit.  The book is a major contribution to our understanding of what it is to be a social person in the modern world.”

—Margot Finn, University College London

“Family Secrets is history so beautiful and compelling,

intimate and grand, generous in its empathy and unsentimental in its analysis, that you’ll find yourself reading it out loud to your own family….This bravura performance makes sense of the dialectical dance of secrecy and openness, silence and speaking, privacy and permissiveness, shame and liberation in making modern Britain.”

—Seth Koven, author of Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London

A "book of marvels"

"What marks out Family Secrets as an important book is not so much its breadth as its depth ... the result is a clear sighted investigation into what our forebears felt was private, and what they kept secret."

—Kathryn Hughes, the Guardian

Book of the Year, 2013

The Sunday Times (James McConnachie)

The Spectator (Jane Ridley)

Times Literary Supplement (Frances Wilson)

"Half the book feels like eavesdropping

— tales of illegitimate half-Indian children and “bachelor uncles” — the other half is a deeply considered argument about the changing relationship between privacy, secrecy and shame."

—James McConnachie, The Sunday Times
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Purchase in the UK

Welcome to Deborah Cohen

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About Deborah

Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Deborah Cohen was educated at Harvard (BA) and Berkeley (Ph.D.).  She is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University.  Her speciality is modern European history, with a focus on Britain.