Figuring coverFiguring
Maria Popova
Pantheon (February 5, 2019), 554 pages
Kindle edition, $14.99, Amazon hardcover $19.49

I’m not sure what this book is trying to be and the lack of a subtitle doesn’t help.

The book opens with the story of the young Maria Mitchell on Nantucket in the nineteenth century, with her passion for astronomy supported by her Quaker father. In a world where such opportunities are mostly closed to woman she makes a name for herself in the field and goes on to teach astronomy at the newly-founded Vassar College.

We then see a glimpse of Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron and frequently credited as co-inventor of the computer. We see a lot of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and then back in the United States there is a discussion of the Transcendental movement with Ralph Waldo Emerson and the bunch. In particular we learn a lot about the innovative, progressive Margaret Fuller.

From Fuller we are introduced to the early history of photography, and then the poet Emily Dickinson, after which we abruptly are presented with a discussion of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan regarding their work on the plaque and sound recording placed on the Voyager spacecraft. From there we are treated to a long discussion of Rachael Carson.

I’m leaving a lot out here.

Popova is trying to tell us something, but I’m not sure quite what.

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