Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (ARC Review)

Wonder WomenInformation

Goodreads: Wonder Women
Series: None
Source: Quirk Books
Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Official Summary

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.

4 stars Briana

13 thoughts on “Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (ARC Review)

  1. TeacherofYA says:

    What is Tumblr-style? Like, I have a site on there, but I’m just trying to understand what that means in terms of writing…just curious!
    Yeah, some women sound awesome while others sound deplorable. The deplorable ones shouldn’t be applauded, but if they want to be recognized for their deeds, I guess I understand that they would see it as a slight not to be remembered? I don’t know.
    Excellent review as always!


    • Briana says:

      I actually don’t hang out on Tumblr much at all, if we’re being honest here. :p But I mean really stereotypical Internet slang expressions. Like the tendency to say things like “I can’t even.” Or just a meme-type language. People associate it with Tumblr (or segments of Tumblr), but I’ve definitely seen it on other areas of the Internet, as well, and people have begun using it verbally, too, which I will admit drives me nuts.

      Right! If you did something interesting, you did something interesting, even it was ethically questionable or you were an obnoxious human being while you did it. But I think it’s possible to present such actions neutrally. I didn’t really need Maggs defending it like “Oh, well. Women had no rights so if they broke some laws and did some bad stuff, they had reasons and were still awesome people.”


    • Briana says:

      As far as I could tell, this was the general consensus on Goodreads last time I checked: great biographies, annoying writing style. I would like to find someone who enjoyed the writing, just for a different perspective. I’m sure it does make it less “dry, textbook-like,” but this can’t be the only way!


  2. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    OH MY GOSH YES TO THIS REVIEW!! I received Wonder Women for review as well – still making my way through it, but I’m SO put off by the Tumblr-style! I’ve been trying to narrow down how to really describe it – but that is perfect! I mean, it’s educational, but at the same time, it seems like the tone and the content kind of clash, if that makes sense?
    Loved to see your review – thank you so much for sharing and validating my feelings haha😀


    • Briana says:

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I do imagine that if the tone were super-serious people would be sitting around complaining “Ugh, it’s so boring and dry.” But there has to be a middle ground here. Other pop nonfiction books have managed to be readable without being ridiculous or grating!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

        Yep totally! That’s completely what I thought! I also thought that the tone didn’t target the target audience very well? Because I thought the target audience would have been teenagers, but with the writing style, I reckon it would appeal more to my ten year old sister!


        • Briana says:

          I’ve seen some complaints about this, too, and a lot of readers are expressing surprise that the book is being marketed as adult nonfiction, and not even YA. It is interesting that cutesy writing styles are associated with non-adult books as if adult books and adults must be completely serious (because obviously they are not), so it’s an intriguing marketing move. But there’s a bit of a problem if people aren’t entirely sure what to do with the book. The general consensus seems to be “good enough content that I’ll try to ignore the writing style” but that’s not exactly how I would want people to describe something I’d written!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

            Yeah definitely! The content is always more important to me, so I tried to ignore the writing style~ I think that most people are a bit put off because it’s a non-fiction book, and most people associate non-fiction books with more serious tones…I think that partially played into it for me as well!🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  3. DoingDewey says:

    The things you mentioned being bothered by mostly didn’t bother me enough for me to mention them in my review, but I still agree with them! The tone was a bit too flippant at times and the slang sometimes already felt outdated to me. And I don’t think that all of the women should be held up as role models. I did love the fascinating stories though and that the author focused on less well known women.


    • Briana says:

      I didn’t even think of the slang dating the book, but that’s a good point! I know they might not have published it with the intention it’d still be selling copies several years from now, but the style is going to be a barrier to this having a particularly long shelf life.


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