Goodreads: Wonder Women
Source: Quirk Books
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
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
Wonder Women is a delightfully informative yet informal look at amazing women in STEM. Maggs purposely tends toward less-known women (personally, I’d heard of about six), meaning the book isn’t just the same-old stories of Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart (though these women get mini bios at the end of each section). Maggs explores the lives and accomplishments of 25 historical women in the fields of science, medicine, espionage, innovation, and adventure, and sprinkles in some interviews with women currently working in STEM to help inspire readers to go do all the science.
Maggs knows how to pick a good tale, so the content of the book is fascinating. She chooses women whose lives were interesting both in and out of their careers and looks at everyone from a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight in the American Civil War to the woman who got rich from inventing a machine that could fold paper bags. There’s also a good bit of diversity in terms of time periods and countries, which was nice since I was personally familiar with mostly the American and a few of the European women.
However, I found the Tumblr-style voice of the book off-putting, and while I initially assumed it might appeal to the intended audience, a quick glance of existing Goodreads reviews showed me either people who were also annoyed by it or people who simply didn’t mention it. So far, Maggs’ quirky asides and casual tone, referring to Alice Ball as “100 percent your kind of gal” or Emmy Noether as a “total BAMF” seems not entirely to be a selling point. Personally, I tried to just grin and bear it, but there were instances where the tone almost came across as flippant. Referring blithely to someone’s accomplishments as “smart-person talk” which clearly the reader wouldn’t understand, to me, does more to diminish the accomplishment than praise it.
However, while I did find all of the women’s bios interesting, I disagree with Maggs that all of the women are role model material. The worst-case offender in the book is one Brita Tott, a woman who spied and forged for personal gain–and was bad enough at it she kept getting caught. Neither her morals nor her skills seem particularly admirable, but Maggs brushes this off because sexism: “Brita may have engaged in some not-so-worthy endeavors, but she was likely trying to survive amid brutal medieval misogyny.” There were a couple other women who seemed generally disagreeable or not entirely ethical, which is fine–it’s still interesting–but it did bother me Maggs is offering them up as full-fledged heroes, rather than simply fascinating people.
Most of the women, however, are admirable, and Maggs will be successful riling readers up about the injustices they faced because of their sex. Many of these women are unknown because they have been purposefully overlooked or had their accomplishments stolen by men. Personally, I would love to have a little bibliography of Maggs’ sources so I could follow up on some of the stories she presents. (And, actually, there’s blank space left for a bibliography in the ARC, so the final version should have one; I just mean I want one for myself. Right now. Because this is all really captivating.)
Bottom line: There were definitely things that irritated me about this book. The voice is hard to get over and honestly makes me hesitant to read anything else by Maggs, even though the content and research is great. However, in this particular case, the pros really do outweigh the cons. I loved that Maggs picked truly lesser-known women and writes about them in an engaging way. Anyone interested in STEM, awesome women, or just fun stories will probably like something about Wonder Women.
*Please note that all quotes are from the ARC and may not be in the final version of the book.
Quirk Books has announced a pre-order campaign for Wonder Women. If you pre-order, you’ll get exclusive wallpapers for your phone, tablet, or computer and be entered for a grand prize for a signed original print. Check out the link for more details.