Library Journal Review
The early 19th-century transcendentalists included many extraordinary individuals, the most famous being Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. But they are merely supporting characters in this queer-, female-centric narrative from Popova (A Velocity of Being). This work features astronomer Maria Mitchell (familiar to readers of Dava Sobel's The Glass Universe); poet Emily Dickinson; marine biologist and environmental author Rachel Carson; and literary critic Margaret Fuller, who takes center stage, in stories strung together through a series of both weak and strong associations. Selections also touch on the lives of contemporaries such as educator Mary Peabody, who coined the term transcendentalism, and sculptor Harriet Hosmer. Among all the pieces, Carson's story, however, reads like an entirely different book in the same series. Similarly, the first chapter on astronomer Johannes Kepler is a bit out of place and serves only to introduce Mitchell. Moreover, Popova's attempts to imitate writers she admires with her stream-of-consciousness style is ultimately distracting and sometimes irrelevant. VERDICT Despite its flaws, this hidden gem of a work will enthrall readers seeking underrepresented voices in the history of science and literature.-Cate Schneiderman, Emerson Coll., Boston © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Booklist Review
The ever-curious thinker behind the celebrated website Brain Pickings, Popova brings her hunger for facts and zeal for biography to this exhilarating and omnivorous inquiry into the lives of geniuses who bridged the scientific and poetic. At the start of this passionate and erudite pursuit of truth and beauty, Popova describes the strange sight of a small red leaf twirling in midair, a gravity-defying mystery solved when she discerns the fine-spun spider's web holding it aloft. This image cues the reader to the structure of this many-threaded net connecting such barrier-breakers as the brilliant astronomer Maria Mitchell; radical writers Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, and Rachel Carson; and the too-little-known sculptor Harriet Hosmer, most of them women-loving women. Popova presents uniquely discerning and strikingly candid interpretations of her subjects' writings, private and published, and profiles their family, lovers, and peers, including Mary Somerville, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ada Lovelace, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Sand, Frederick Douglass, Florence Nightingale, and Lise Meitner, among many others. Popova also chronicles sustaining same-sex relationships and the furors her subjects ignited, traces hidden strands of influence, and recalibrates the underappreciated impact women have had on culture and science. Writing with an ardor for language and musing on chance, affinity, and our fear of change, Popova constructs an intricate biographical cosmos that is intellectually scintillating, artistically wondrous, and deeply affecting.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2019 Booklist