Women in History
This is a round-up of the books I’ve read and I’ve enjoyed. The topic of the round-up is Women in History. I gave all the books at least 3 stars.
For each recommendation I’m writing a very short description. All the books are non-fiction, of course. Not all the reviews are published on this blog, as some were written before I made Coffee&Books, so I will share a longer description for those. The books aren’t mentioned in a particular order.
Selected poems by Aphra Behn
Aphra Behn was born in 1640 and she is the first English woman to earn her living by writing. She was witty and funny if I judge by her poems. She died at 48, but managed to do amazing things in her life, including being a British spy in Antwerp in 1666. Unfortunately, she was imprisoned for debt, but this pushed her to write for an income. Besides poems, she wrote novels and plays, one of them acted by Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II. She is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Luckily for us, her work is still in circulation today. For that period, I found her poems very explicit. She talks openly about sex and about women’s role in society. The best known poem is “The Disappointment”, the subject is obvious from the title. But, one of my favourite poems of her was To Mr. Creech (under the Name of Daphnis) on his Excellent Translation of Lucretius, and I quote:
“Till now, I curst my Birth, my Education,
And more the scanted Customes of the Nation:
Permitting not the Female Sex to tread,
The Mighty Paths of Learned Heroes dead.
The God-like Virgil, and great Homers Verse,
Like Divine Mysteries are conceal’d from us.“
Matilda by Tracy Borman
Matilda was William of Conqueror’s wife and this book is about her, filled with interesting stories.
Women in Mathematics. From Hypatia to Emmy Noether by Joaquin Navarro
Is a book from the National Geographic series Our mathematical world. The women are presented in chronological order.
The first is the story of Hypatia, an amazing woman who lived in the 4th century in Alexandria. As she was an astronomer and a mathematician, she was excommunicated by Christians, who didn’t understand what astronomy was. Christians snatched Hypatia from her carriage, beat her, stripped her, mutilated her in a temple and stripped the flesh from her bones with oyster shells (or roof tiles, the translation is not clear). They burned her remains. As a result, the Patriach Cyril was made a saint 30 years later. Later, bishops decided that Hypatia was satanic and Cyril was obviously right to do what he did. More annoyingly, a movie was made in 2009 about her, with a few adjustments like she was prepared to die willingly and painlessly, killed by a slave. But the movie got the approval of the Vatican, obviously. If her story made an impression on you as much as it did on me, remember two things she said:
“It is a terrible thing to teach superstitions as if they were truths”.
“Preserve your right to think; it is better that you risk erring than commit the sin of not thinking”.
All other stories are interesting, Italian, French, Russian, the well-known British Ada Lovelace and Florence Nightingale. The book made me want to read more about women in mathematics, and other sciences too.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
An emotional story about a woman and her husband who had an underground network to help Jews in Poland under Nazi occupation. It is worth reading.
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
The five are the victims of Jack the Ripper. Rubenhold talks about their lives from childhood to the point they were killed, focusing on their experiences.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
Jung Chang tells her story, her mother’s story, and her grandmother’s story. It’s hard to read at times because what happened was shocking, but it offers a great insight into the real lives of Chinese people living under the Communists.
A Daughter’s Love by John Guy
Guy talks in this book about Thomas More and his eldest daughter, Margaret. Her achievements were so impressive, considering that she lived in the 16th century. For example, she was a published author.
Henrietta Howard: King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant by Tracy Borman
It was such a lovely story and Henrietta was a very determined and inspirational woman who is, sometimes, presented in a poor light.
The Comet Sweeper by Claire Broke
This is a biography of Caroline Herschel, one of the first women to be an astronomer. She helped her brother for many years and made some discoveries by herself.
Sister Queens by Julia Fox
The sisters are Juana and Katherine of Aragon, both with very sad stories.
Survival of the Prettiest – The science of Beauty by Nancy Etcoff
Nancy Etcoff has degrees in psychology from Harvard and Boston University. The book is written in an easy-to-read way, not very technical. The studies are presented by findings and not complicated with aspects like size of control group and statistic analysis. Some of the findings in those studies where not what I would have assumed. The book covers different aspects, from size to fashion, and from the beauty of babies to the pros and cons of being beautiful. If you have an interest in fashion, beauty, or human nature, you will love this book. I included it because it is relevant for the history of humankind, even though, technically, it’s not exactly history.
The Missionary Position. Mother Theresa in theory and in practice by Christopher Hitchens
The name of the book is more controversial than the book itself. Like most people, I though Mother Theresa was a caring woman. But, if only half of the things written in the book are real, I couldn’t be more wrong. Her stance on contraception is, well… Christian, and the same can be said about her stance on abortion. That wouldn’t be a problem unless she tried to persuade politicians to act against free choice. It shouldn’t be a matter for politicians or clergy to impose their views as is none of their concern what women want to do. It’s not their body and it’s not their moral values. It’s something I feel very strongly about.
She was involved with all sort of politicians and she tried to intervene in the case of Charles Keating, accused of fraud. I was horrified to read about other things, like how cancer patients were treated in her hospice, the amount of money in the bank that weren’t used for people in need, her way of treating the nuns. I think this book should be a reminder/wake up call that not all charities are as charitable as one might think. Also, if something is in the newspapers it doesn’t mean that it’s also correct. Before giving money to a cause because it looks nice in the newspapers, try to find out if their beliefs are inline with your own.
I think the book is a must read for all Christians and the ones donating to charity. For me the book was a revelation (pun intended).