Profiles of a handful of women who have influenced American culture and politics. Ware (Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism, 1993) starts her book with an ambitious premise. Drawing on the lives of seven outsize leaders in the realms of politics, journalism, anthropology, acting, sports, dance, and music, she sets out to explicate the often difficult relations between private and public faced by American women. Though well-trod territory, the subject is perennially fascinating. However, the way she chooses to present these women—Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Thompson, Margaret Mead, Katharine Hepburn, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Martha Graham, and Marian Anderson—presupposes an intimate knowledge of them not necessarily shared by the reader. She puts out a casting call for "strong, independent characters"—a device that lends a chummy tone to the book that doesn—t necessarily make up for lack of documentation. As she launches into each profile, she explores these women's professional lives as well as their personal relationships, and therein lies the problem. With the exception of Dorothy Thompson, substantial biographies have already been devoted to Ware's subjects. Therefore, one cannot escape the feeling that more nuanced portraits of these women can be found elsewhere. By trying to place them under a larger canopy, Ware corners herself into writing synopses of the women's lives: Eleanor Roosevelt had "a need to love and to be loved"; Dorothy Thompson "worked hard to make it as a woman in a man's world"; Martha Graham had a "primal fear of being outside the limelight," etc. The result is a few illuminating anecdotes, a brief analysis from the author on the psyches of her subjects, and an explanation of why these women were important. What is missing is the continuous thread that can tie all these women together, and the lesson women in America today can take from these pioneers. It's not for lack of material that Ware fails to deliver what she promises.
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