Incredibly--from 39 outstanding women, 35 or so outstanding oral histories. The explanation may lie, unsuspected, in that...


PARTICULAR PASSIONS: Talks With Women Who Have Shaped Our Times

Incredibly--from 39 outstanding women, 35 or so outstanding oral histories. The explanation may lie, unsuspected, in that almost-chichi alliterative title: as architect/planner Denise Scott Brown observes, ""women need more passion than men to stick it out""--not only on account of the obstacles, but because (until recently) they've had an alternative. But part of the credit must go, also, to the interviewing that tapped that passion and--with the editing--channeled it so discreetly that no two accounts read alike. Among those talking at will about their work, how they came to it, what difference being a woman made, are: in the arts--Museum of Modern Art curator Dorothy Miller (the excitement of first showing the Abstract Expressionists, ""the element of drama"" in a good exhibition), La Mama theater's Ellen Stewart (one of those who ""started something"" to foster others' work--partly from their own lack of formal training), the late jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams (""I went to a great high school""--in a seedbed of piano players, Pittsburgh); in theoretical, traditionally masculine disciplines--mathematician Grace Murray Hopper (developer of the computer language COBOL--for the majority who are not ""symbol manipulators"") and theologian Rosemary Ruether (""the reason why I found Christianity to be more exciting than humanism is that. . . You don't have that sense of God as being on the side of the poor and the oppressed. . . ""); in the law--women's rights advocate Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the process--and necessity--of organizing a step-by-step litigation campaign) and appellate judge Shirley Hufstedler (a specialist, by choice, in complex litigation--which requires mastery also of the subject matter); and so on--in medicine and science, in journalism and the media, in public life. Household names turn up too--Agnes de Mille, Rosalyn Yalow, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Louise Nevelson, Billie Jean King, Sarah Caldwell, Julia Child, Joan Ganz Cooney--along with such feminist stalwarts as Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan. There are some wrenching personal stories--Gotham Book Mart founder Frances Steloff, b. 1887, was a bound-out child denied books, denied schooling (who later collected books to have, not to read). And one can draw various conclusions, generation by generation, from their life-stories in toto. But if they are women pathfinders, they are preeminently inspired doers--whose reasons for doing what they did are a story in themselves. A stellar compilation: for selective reading or straight through.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Potter--dist. by Crown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981