Review: Modern Women; 52 pioneers.

Posted on Mar 8 2017 - 12:00pm by Claire Herbaux
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I rarely go elsewhere but on Twitter and right here to share books I am passionate about. And I am careful with praise, because most readers have such a long to-be-read pile, suggestions are not even taken in anymore. I made an exception last week. I shared with every book and readers group I knew, that I was reading and loving this book.

Ida B Wells Photograph by Mary Garrity

Ida B Wells Photograph by Mary Garrity

Here is why: feminism or not aside, these women have moved mountains, they have changed the world. As it is not a novel, I won’t be summarising – in short, they are 52 small biographies of women – but rather tell you about my journey of discovering the book.

First of all, looking through all the 52 names, flicking through to see the pictures and stories, it is amazing to see the variety of people captured in one book. You cannot even begin to put these women into categories, because most of them became who they because they stepped over those defining boundaries.

Who would have thought you can put Nora Ephron or Oprah Winfrey into a book with Miriam Makeba, Gurinder Chadha, Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo or Wilma Rudolph?

The other fascinating thing I noticed, is that I am sure each of us will recognise some names, but also admit to discovering a few personalities. Having covered such a wide range of biographies in one single book, we are bound to not know about a couple – and it feels great to read about them.

Sophie Duleep Singh Photograph by Robert Kybird

Sophie Duleep Singh Photograph by Robert Kybird

The format is addictive: short chapters, a maximum of three pages of text, plus pictures. As soon as one is finished you cannot wait to read another. It also means you are not tempted to skip on a chapter or personality if it is not your area of interest (in my case, some artists doing oil canvases or paleontology). We should be able to give everyone three pages of our attention. Three pages is what it takes to get you started, to make you admire a person, but leave you wanting more and maybe looking up a full biography.

This book is a celebration of women, and it is international women’s day after all. But it is a book for everyone. No woman featured doesn’t deserve to be in there. They have all been picked not because they are simply women, but because of what they have achieved and although some stories, motivations and background are saddening, it is an inspirational book.

If it wasn’t as addictive to read, I would suggest reading one chapter a week, to have a moment of happiness each week, maybe on a Sunday, to finish the week on a stimulating and positive.

And to start this moment of positivity, I am leaving you with a few quotes (all from the first few chapters, after which I realised I was copying out almost the entire book):

“Loroupe’s example changed the world of marathon and distance running for good.”

“Of course people said I should stay at home, not run, but I was not listening to them. Women always have to fight. Nothing is easy for us.”

“There were genuine arguments whether a woman’s body and mind could withstand space.”

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them”

“Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

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