Informative biographical essays of influential women.

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VISIONARY WOMEN

HOW RACHEL CARSON, JANE JACOBS, JANE GOODALL, AND ALICE WATERS CHANGED OUR WORLD

A group biography of women who created profound cultural changes.

Journalist Barnet (All-Night Party: The Women of Bohemian Greenwich Village and Harlem, 1913-1930, 2004) focuses on four women who became famous in the 1960s for iconoclastic work in different fields: Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring became a bible of the environmental movement; Jane Jacobs, critic and activist, who championed the cultural richness of city life; Jane Goodall, who shocked anthropologists by discovering chimps using tools; and Alice Waters, who inspired the sustainable food movement with her Berkeley, California, restaurant Chez Panisse. Drawing on the many “superb individual biographies” of these women, who did not know one another, Barnet offers an overview of their lives to point up the “striking overlaps and consonances” in their thinking and “the extent to which these four pioneers were channeling the anxieties of their particular moment.” The overlaps seem predictable: like many successful women, each was hardworking, determined, strong-willed, and intelligent. Encountering derision by powerful men, they “tenaciously stood their ground.” However, their personalities were vastly dissimilar, and Barnet strains to find convergences. They were all nurturers, she argues, but “instead of material expansion, each emphasized quality of life, the public good, what was sensible and ethical.” Moreover, Barnet insists that their perception of the interconnectedness of the living world is a distinctively female predilection for bonding and community; citing one study, she asserts that under stress, women “respond with a desire to connect with others.” Goodall “neither envisioned nor experienced the natural world as a hierarchy in which mankind stood at the top, separate and superior.” Similarly, Carson and Jacobs experienced their own environments as “an organism that pulsed with life.” Barnet deeply admires her subjects, which colors her portrait of the “elfin” Waters, “a remarkable character by any measure,” whom she interviewed for this book, and she fails to examine the self-absorption that seems to have fueled Waters’ personal and professional conflicts.

Informative biographical essays of influential women.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-231072-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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