The former editor-in-chief of Parade magazine pays tribute to women who have contributed indispensable work in a variety of fields.
Near the beginning, Kaplan (The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, 2015, etc.) asks a pertinent question: “In our current era of assumedly aroused consciousness to gender issues, why do both men and women still assume that men’s contributions to society are the ones that really count?” The author does readers a service by spotlighting the achievements of many remarkable women. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn had sisters with equal or better talent, but while Fanny Mendelssohn was able to publish her work, Maria Anna Mozart achieved little recognition. In the sciences, the sins are more egregious. Female lab assistants have often conducted breakthrough research only to earn prizes for their professors or to discover the basis of world-changing science that enables another prizewinner. As she searches for characteristics of genius, the author lists a number of requirements. The first is to have acknowledgment, support, and encouragement from a parent or mentor. Being naturally smart (whatever that means) isn’t at the top of the list; tenacity and determination come before innate intelligence. How many women are out there who never understood their full capabilities because no one ever mentioned it? From science, technology, and math to literature, art, and psychology, Kaplan presents a diverse cast, including those geniuses still at work—e.g., Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Donna Strickland, who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics. Who is considered a genius depends on who sets the rules; throughout history, that has been men. Refreshingly, as the author points out, there are now countless groundbreaking women paving the way for future generations, who will see power differently and demand to be taken seriously. “Once we expect to see women’s genius on display,” she writes, “the lack of it seems wrong and inexplicable.”
Kaplan’s coverage of this broad-reaching topic is as deep and diverse as women’s abilities.