Heavily weighted to history, a defense of women who, by choice or by chance, are not mothers. Author Lisle (Louise Nevelson: A Passionate Life, 1990, etc.), now in her 50s, chose not to have children--she is, to use one of her favorite terms, a nullipara (the medical term for a woman without a child)--and found the decision subject to attack from within and without. ""To this day, women without children . . . share a common stigma,"" she quotes one expert as saying, and Lisle goes on to note that such women are often portrayed as ""damaged or deviant"" or ""just not nice enough."" Lisle rallies the nulliparous troops by foraging through history for childless, though not always virgin, role models. Among them are the Hellenic goddesses Artemis and Athena, Queen Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, and Louisa May Alcott. Closer to home are what used to be called maiden aunts, energetic examples of ""social mothers"" who worked in orphanages and poorhouses or served as caretakers (and inspirations) for their nieces and nephews. Lisle explores the cycles of society's views of motherhood as well as more intimate issues like ""fantasy children"" and the still powerful link of sexuality to procreation. She examines the difficulties and rewards of living with men when bearing children is not a goal of the relationship and tries for a balanced view of how children can stimulate or thwart individual and artistic development. Because becoming a parent is so often equated with maturity, Lisle notes wryly, ""those of us without children sometimes wonder if we are really grown-ups,"" but she avoids attacking women who do decide to have children. Personal anecdotes and interviews are woven into the historical research. For women who make choices other than having children, some comfort and copious intellectual support, but despite Lisle's own emotional investment, surprisingly without ardor.