Wonder Women is very informative not just about historical figures, but also about those currently making their mark. The women profiled within its pages come from many countries and many economic strata while their contributions vary from scientific to literary to social among others. The common note is how each helps to dispel the myth of female inability.
Sam Maggs is upfront about the motivation for writing this book. She wants modern day women and girls to feel able to tackle whatever they might aspire to regardless of societal discouragements. This motive is noticeable in the somewhat snarky tone as Maggs uncovers information that has been ignored or deliberately obscured by coworkers and others, but the tone also conveys her own delight at what she uncovers, making the book a fun read.
The author speaks of all the ways these women have been discouraged, blocked, and stolen from, including how some of the top awards for science went to the wrong person. She backs these claims with historical documents that have been neglected in the official record. Sometimes, the woman profiled had to make the harsh but necessary decision to mask her involvement in order to earn a living while other times her work is claimed by men or ignored in favor of a later paper on the same subject written by a man in a blatant attempt to maintain the myth of male superiority. Greater access to information from a wider variety of sources than the dominant historical accounts allows a book like this to set the record straight using primary sources closer to the actual period.
But don’t think that is all Wonder Women has to offer. Each biography tells of an interesting woman and spends as much, if not more, time on what she was accomplishing as on the obstacles each faced. Though history obscures their contributions, in many cases, we are benefiting from the results even now. The profiles range from limited information about a woman called Agnodice in 4th Century BCE to interviews with living women including the founder of the STEM program, which encourages young women to pursue a career in science. Whether recording the steps that changed the study of insects from still pictures and assumptions to full life-cycle observations, how a female spy allayed Nazi suspicions by taking them to task for the inconvenience they caused her, or the true origins of the game Monopoly, each profile offers fascinating, and detailed, information about a woman contributing with her curiosity, intelligence, and/or ingenuity.
This is not a subtle book. It is a cry for truth and justified recognition for women who have performed important services in medicine, engineering, spy craft and more. It’s an attempt to give representation and exposure so those women and girls deciding what to do with their lives now know they have more options than is apparent. It also could serve as a starting point for inspiring curiosity. The descriptions are not simple summaries either. They include details about the women’s work, what documentation was available, and how everything came about, easily enough to encourage further research into any of the profiled women.
The book is egalitarian as far as location is concerned, bringing to our attention women from across the world and of many skin colors. Maggs trash talks to society at large, but is careful to avoid anything but mild swears. She’s also quick to recognize those men who, as supervisors, colleagues, family, and friends, worked to help women get the recognition they deserved.
Wonder Women is far from a dry textbook, especially with the neat illustrations, but rather is a manifesto against the exclusion of women from a broad variety of careers, showing by examples how neither gender nor skin color determines what you can become. A powerful and entertaining read that serves to open eyes minds and possibilities while encouraging a deeper exploration of these fascinating lives.
P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.