Book Review: Bloody Brilliant Women: The Pioneers, Revolutionaries and Geniuses Your History Teacher Forgot to Mention – Cathy Newman *****

UK readers may be familiar with Cathy Newman from her role as journalist and presenter on Channel Four’s nightly news programme. She has a very direct but completely amicable style that often disarms the people that she interviews. This easygoing style translates into her written prose and what could be a dull and dry subject is a lively journey through the ages.

My only real gripe with this book celebrating great women in history is the cover. A terribly misleading choice of artwork that has more akin with a Jacqueline Wilson tweenies novel than a celebration of female pioneers. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be given to older teenagers to read, as a sixteen year old I would have devoured a book like this and been inspired to step away from the norm.

Reading this book over the weekend of the centennial commemorations of the ending of the first world war has been particularly poignant. Reading about the struggles of early pioneers in education, nursing, science and literature has been especially interesting in the context of the work that these women undertook in the absence of the men during the war years.

One of the biggest surprises for me was learning more about Scottish family planning pioneer Marie Stopes. Famous for her campaigning for women’s rights and a woman’s right to birth control she was also a devout advocate of eugenics and the purification of the race. So much so that when her only son married a woman who wore glasses she cut him out of her will. Horrified that he would even consider having children with someone who was genetically faulty.

Bloody Brilliant Women should be an addition to every A Level History reading list so that everyone can appreciate the strength and depth that women have brought – and continue to bring – to society, politics, literature, science, medicine. Indeed every aspect of life. Brava Cathy Newman!

Provided by Net Galley and William Collins in exchange for an honest review.

UK Publication Date: Oct 4 2018. 336 pages.

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