About 800 women kill their male partners annually: many of them were among the estimated 1.5 million routinely abused by their men. (About 1300 men kill their wives each year.) Browne here relates the stories of 11 severely abused women who took the ultimate step, then compares their experiences with other abused women who did not kill. She concludes that there are few differences in background and personality that set the two groups apart. The men who died, however, were significantly more violent than the mates of women who had not retaliated. Those who died perpetrated more battering, caused more injuries, were more prone to alcohol and drug abuse and also engaged more in child abuse--including sexual acts. They tracked down the women and children who tried to escape or, in one case, terrorized her parents until she was persuaded to return. When the killing occurred, the woman was usually fighting for her life or that of a child. The homicides were invariably unplanned. Browne cites evidence to show that the actions of the abused women (up to the point of homicide) are in line with those of hostage victims, prisoners of war and others in a situation of extreme helplessness through no fault of their own. Women in both groups go to great lengths to protect their children--who also serve as the anchor that keeps them in an intolerable situation. Because most of their abusers are so possessive, the women are often cut off from friends and families, and hence have no support system to help them escape. Many had turned repeatedly to the police and social agencies for help to no avail. On the other hand, the men were so irrational, so monstrous that they defy comprehension. Browne found that many had been reared in abusive and/or chaotic families (as had many of the women), but she admits that ""we still know relatively little about men who perpetrate violence against their partners."" This is strong and gut-wrenching reading: women are stomped, partially blinded, slashed with knives, threatened with guns and raped--usually after a brutal beating. It's the stuff of S & M movies, but it's for real. Thus this book is another worthwhile contribution to the growing literature on women for whom a marriage license or a sexual commitment is a passport to hell.