Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (review)

wonderwomen_maggs_quirkbooksPublisher’s Description: 

Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”?  Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition?  How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit.  In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations.

◊   ◊   ◊

Aptly sub-titled “25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History,” this gathering of biographical sketches shines a spotlight on women who have made great contributions to their area of endeavor.  Following a “We Can Do It” introduction that discusses representation and why it matters, there are five chapters that divide the women profiled into categories: Women of Science, Women of Medicine, Women of Espionage, Women of Innovation, Women of Adventure.

Each section consists of five (of the 25) biographical profiles, a quick paragraph each of more women who also made contributions,and a brief interview with a woman currently working in the area.   There are many women included that, like me, you have probably not heard of, and the author is often quick to point out why.
The aim of this book is fantastic, to bring to light women who have made important contributions in STEM areas.  The inclusion of advice to young women seeking to enter a STEM career path is a great addition and would have been highly valued personally had such a book been published and accessible in my more formative years.

Though the inclusion of Espionage as a STEM area seemed questionable, I quickly moved past that initial reaction as this is an area I find fascinating and would have devoured as a teen, when I was very into Robert Ludlum books and the Cold War was still very much a thing.
While I applaud the information and intent of Wonder Women, I do take issue with some of the approach.  When profiling a woman who should be mentioned alongside specific men in a field, refusing to now name the men does little to promote a linking of the woman’s name to the advances she made or contributed to when other sources are likely to only list the men.  Likewise, saying something like “way not to be a jerk” when acknowledging a man who did not practice sexism seems counter-productive.  Perhaps this is just me, but to my way of thinking, the cause of feminism is not helped by the practice of reverse sexism or by our being very grudging in acknowledging those men who were not misogynists despite it being an unfortunate cultural norm.
My other issue with this book may be a generational one or possibly due, in part, to my educational background and expectations about the writing of non-fiction.  The writing simply felt too casual and a bit lazy with the overall tone vacillating between strident and flippant.  The author discards proper grammar and uses language that is more suited to texts, tweets (for which this might be quite quotable), and seems better suited to a fast paced (and possibly animated, the artwork definitely lends itself to this theory) YouTube style video rather than a printed book.  But then again, this is aimed at a younger audience, so they may enjoy the “double snaps,” texting abbreviations (and preponderance of asides in quotation marks [yes, I am being deliberately ironic (and possibly a little snarky) in my use of them in this paragraph]), and frequent pop culture references that I found off-putting.
I like the idea of this book.  I respect the effort that was put into it and I think that it could be a great starting point for readers who find someone or something that interests or intrigues them.  It is full of great jumping-off points for further research, possibly beginning with the sources listed in the bibliography.  Personally, I’m interested in reading more about the women from the Espionage section and about Alice Ball, since she was from Seattle.  Unfortunately, the two issues I previously mentioned join together to lead to a text that reads more like a pop feminist rant than a serious attempt to help rectify representation.  And yet, despite the serious issues I have with it, I still find myself wanting to like it.
Maybe I’m just getting old.  Sigh.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs | Quirk Books, Oct 4, 2016 | paperback, 240 pages

I received a free Advance Reading Copy from the publisher in exchange for a review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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