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NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY ESQUIRE AND BOOKPAGE

Figuring explores the complexities of love and the human search for truth and meaning through the interconnected lives of several historical figures across four centuries—beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and ending with the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, who catalyzed the environmental movement.

Stretching between these figures is a cast of artists, writers, and scientists—mostly women, mostly queer—whose public contribution have risen out of their unclassifiable and often heartbreaking private relationships to change the way we understand, experience, and appreciate the universe. Among them are the astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science; the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, who did the same in art; the journalist and literary critic Margaret Fuller, who sparked the feminist movement; and the poet Emily Dickinson.

Emanating from these lives are larger questions about the measure of a good life and what it means to leave a lasting mark of betterment on an imperfect world: Are achievement and acclaim enough for happiness? Is genius? Is love? Weaving through the narrative is a set of peripheral figures—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Walt Whitman—and a tapestry of themes spanning music, feminism, the history of science, the rise and decline of religion, and how the intersection of astronomy, poetry, and Transcendentalist philosophy fomented the environmental movement.

Review

“[A] passionate and erudite pursuit of truth and beauty.”  —Booklist  (starred review)

“Intimate . . . timely . . . Figuring thunders along with a novelistic intensity, propelled by the organic drama of its extraordinary lives . . . It speaks to the quality of Popova’s own writing that it survives comparison with the literary giants of the last four centuries. Her wonderfully deft and sincere prose melts down the raw materials of heavy research into a coruscating flow of ideas, images, and insights that add skin and sinew to the bones of biographical fact to create a forward-looking history that''s both timely and timeless.”  Vanity Fair

“Strange and lovely . . . [An] ambitious, challenging and somewhat category-defying book . . . fascinating . . . beautiful.” — The New York Times Book Review

“An intricate tapestry in which the lives of these women, and dozens of other scientific and literary figures, are woven together through threads of connection across four centuries . . . In Figuring, we are thrust into a waltz of exquisitely honed minds—most of them belonging to women, many of them sexually queer—all insisting on living to their fullest.” — The Washington Post

“Poignant . . . dynamic and engaging . . . Figuring, if anything, serves as a corrective to the male/straight school of historical writing, showcasing women who tried to live their own lives and create their own worlds in the face of dismissal and neglect. Finally, perhaps, women like Fuller, Mitchell, and Carson have found their best chronicler.” —Book and Film Globe

"Figuring
is a love letter to scientists of the past, women whose lived have all too often been eclipsed. . . striking. . . profound. . . dizzying in its scope. . . inspirational. . . There is grandeur and beauty in this view of science. . . few have so fulsomely explored how science and poetry, love and learning, and affairs of the heart intertwine in a way that, even after more than 500 pages, leaves one trembling for more. But like other affairs of the heart, the joys of reading Popova’s prose are perhaps best experienced for oneself.”  Science!

“Stunning in both its scope and execution. . . [ Figuring] is a shiningly femme, revolutionary, and poetic piece of literature. . .” The Harvard Crimson

“Fans of polymath Maria Popova’s popular website, Brain Pickings, will find themselves right at home in  Figuring, her audacious new work of intellectual history that focuses on the lives of a coterie of brilliant women.  . .  Figuring invites the reader to engage with complex ideas and challenging personalities, unearthing a wealth of material for further reflection along the way.”  —BookPage (starred review)

“Fascinating . . . Piecing together human truths and the remarkable details of these lives well-lived into an extraordinary mosaic of human existence, Figuring reveals our timeless interconnectedness, and the inevitable, although improbable, intersections of our lives in the vastness of the universe.”  BookTrib
 
“This is an ocean-deep and sky-uplifting book, an elaborate feast for both brain and soul. Written by the beyond brilliant Popova, it explores colossal questions through the interwoven lives of historical figures across centuries and disciplines including science, literature and art. There are galaxies of themes in the cosmos of  Figuring—it’s a literary masterpiece like nothing else—but most of all, it’s a book on love, on meaning, on beauty, and on being.”— Yana Buhrer Tavanier, TED.com
 
“[With] the immediacy of eyewitness accounts . . . Popova has an uncanny ability to spot what connects a wide range of notable figures from different disciplines across four centuries . . . lyrical and imaginative . . . Figuring is itself a vivid demonstration of how one book feeds into another, and ideas ripple outwards across continents for hundreds of years, setting off a chain reaction of new discoveries . . .”— The Times Literary Supplement

“A musical, poetic modern classic . . . especially fine and fresh . . . Among the most compelling biographical pages I have ever read, rendering me incapable of closing the book.”  —The Irish Times

“The polymathic Popova, presiding genius behind brainpickings.org, looks at some of the forgotten heroes of science, art, and culture . . . she peppers thoughtful, lucid consideration of acts of the imagination with stories that, if ever aired before, are too little known . . . Throughout her complex, consistently stimulating narrative, the author blends biography, cultural criticism, and journalism to forge elegant connections: Dickinson feeds onto Carson, who looks back to Mitchell, who looks forward to Popova herself, and with plenty of milestones along the way . . . A lyrical work of intellectual history, one that Popova''s many followers will await eagerly and that deserves to win her many more.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A masterful weave of astronomy, social justice and human consciousness. It also contains age-old lessons for storytellers whose job is to bring new ideas to wide audiences.” Thrive Global

“A work of alchemy . . . In her hands, biography becomes liquid gold . . . Figuring is a dense and intricate read, but Popova’s writing is clear and simple, designed to draw people in. She doesn’t obfuscate for the sake of it. The complexity is earned, even necessary for the tapestry she’s creating . . . it’s full of wonder, emotion and love . . .”  The Michigan Daily

“There is no one in American letters quite like Maria Popova . . . Through page after page of prose, I accompanied Maria Popova and her cast of characters until the larger picture came into focus. Looking into these lives was an invitation to look into my own, which seemed exactly Popova’s point. Those for whom deep reading and existential questioning are more pleasure than hardship will find this book good company.” — The Charleston Post and Courier 

About the Author

MARIA POPOVA is a reader and a writer, and writes about what she reads on Brain Pickings (brainpickings.org), which is included in the Library of Congress''s permanent digital archive of culturally valuable materials. She hosts The Universe in Verse an annual celebration of science through poetry—at the interdisciplinary cultural center Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. She grew up in Bulgaria immersed in music and mathematics.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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All of it—the rings of Saturn and my father’s wedding band, the underbelly of the clouds pinked by the rising sun, Einstein’s brain bathing in a jar of formaldehyde, every grain of sand that made the glass that made the jar and each idea Einstein ever had, the shep­herdess singing in the Rila mountains of my native Bulgaria and each one of her sheep, every hair on Chance’s velveteen dog ears and Marianne Moore’s red braid and the whiskers of Montaigne’s cat, every translucent fingernail on my friend Amanda’s newborn son, every stone with which Virginia Woolf filled her coat pockets before wading into the River Ouse to drown, every copper atom composing the disc that carried arias aboard the first human-made object to enter interstellar space and every oak splinter of the floor­boards onto which Beethoven collapsed in the fit of fury that cost him his hearing, the wetness of every tear that has ever been wept over a grave and the yellow of the beak of every raven that has ever watched the weepers, every cell in Galileo’s fleshy finger and every molecule of gas and dust that made the moons of Jupiter to which it pointed, the Dipper of freckles constellating the olive firmament of a certain forearm I love and every axonal flutter of the tender­ness with which I love her, all the facts and figments by which we are perpetually figuring and reconfiguring reality—it all banged into being 13.8 billion years ago from a single source, no louder than the opening note of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, no larger than the dot levitating over the small i, the I lowered from the pedestal of ego.
 
How can we know this and still succumb to the illusion of separ­ateness, of otherness? This veneer must have been what the conflu­ence of accidents and atoms known as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saw through when he spoke of our “inescapable network of mutu­ality,” what Walt Whitman punctured when he wrote that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
 
One autumn morning, as I read a dead poet’s letters in my friend Wendy’s backyard in San Francisco, I glimpse a fragment of that atomic mutuality. Midsentence, my peripheral vision—that glory of instinct honed by millennia of evolution—pulls me toward a mirac­ulous sight: a small, shimmering red leaf twirling in midair. It seems for a moment to be dancing its final descent. But no—it remains sus­pended there, six feet above ground, orbiting an invisible center by an invisible force. For an instant I can see how such imperceptible causalities could drive the human mind to superstition, could impel medieval villagers to seek explanation in magic and witchcraft. But then I step closer and notice a fine spider’s web glistening in the air above the leaf, conspiring with gravity in this spinning miracle.
 
Neither the spider has planned for the leaf nor the leaf for the spider—and yet there they are, an accidental pendulum propelled by the same forces that cradle the moons of Jupiter in orbit, animated into this ephemeral early-morning splendor by eternal cosmic laws impervious to beauty and indifferent to meaning, yet replete with both to the bewildered human consciousness beholding it.
 
We spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins. We snatch our freeze-frame of life from the simultaneity of existence by holding on to illusions of permanence, congruence, and linearity; of static selves and lives that unfold in sensical narratives. All the while, we mistake chance for choice, our labels and models of things for the things themselves, our records for our history. History is not what happened, but what survives the shipwrecks of judgment and chance.
 
Some truths, like beauty, are best illuminated by the sidewise gleam of figuring, of meaning-making. In the course of our figuring, orbits intersect, often unbeknownst to the bodies they carry—intersections mappable only from the distance of decades or centuries. Facts crosshatch with other facts to shade in the nuances of a larger truth—not relativism, no, but the mightiest realism we have. We slice through the simultaneity by being everything at once: our first names and our last names, our loneliness and our society, our bold ambition and our blind hope, our unrequited and part-requited loves. Lives are lived in parallel and perpendicular, fath­omed nonlinearly, figured not in the straight graphs of “biography” but in many-sided, many-splendored diagrams. Lives interweave with other lives, and out of the tapestry arise hints at answers to questions that raze to the bone of life: What are the building blocks of character, of contentment, of lasting achievement? How does a person come into self-possession and sovereignty of mind against the tide of convention and unreasoning collectivism? Does genius suffice for happiness, does distinction, does love? Two Nobel Prizes don’t seem to recompense the melancholy radiating from every photograph of the woman in the black laboratory dress. Is success a guarantee of fulfillment, or merely a promise as precarious as a marital vow? How, in this blink of existence bookended by nothing­ness, do we attain completeness of being?
 
There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives.
 
So much of the beauty, so much of what propels our pursuit of truth, stems from the invisible connections—between ideas, between dis­ciplines, between the denizens of a particular time and a particu­lar place, between the interior world of each pioneer and the mark they leave on the cave walls of culture, between faint figures who pass each other in the nocturne before the torchlight of a revolution lights the new day, with little more than a half-nod of kinship and a match to change hands.

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4.7 out of 54.7 out of 5
531 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Richard J Katz
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Death by Salt
Reviewed in the United States on February 17, 2019
Let me start by stating that I am in love with Maria Popova. I heard her at the 92nd street Y last year, and read Brain Pickings every Wednesday and Sunday. I am a fanboy. Thus I eagerly awaited Figuring. The book attempts to establish intellectual songlines of a diverse... See more
Let me start by stating that I am in love with Maria Popova. I heard her at the 92nd street Y last year, and read Brain Pickings every Wednesday and Sunday. I am a fanboy. Thus I eagerly awaited Figuring. The book attempts to establish intellectual songlines of a diverse group of scientists and poets, mostly women, over some four centuries.
The problem with the book (I am giving up on it at p93) is that most of the connections are slight at best; something along the line of... "and could it be merely coincidence that X and Y both use the conjunctive "and" in their writing, and as far as we can determine, both put salt in their soup, thus prefiguring FDA guidelines by a century...
What seems to work well in short pieces which gesture at intellectual congruence falls apart in this more extended format, becoming a sort of intellectual ADHD.
I will continue to read this most gifted and thoughtful author, and am sorry the current work fails me (clearly it hasn''t for other reviewers)
If anyone wants a pristine copy I will send it to you for the price of postage--you may have better luck.
173 people found this helpful
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Carrie E. Ruggieri
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Beautiful
Reviewed in the United States on February 9, 2019
I’ve never felt more grateful for the existence of a writer. This book is about science, humanity,love, ideas, beauty. There is a refreshing alignment of science with art, in that science is essentially organic art- that is if we judge art to be what inspires. And, it’s... See more
I’ve never felt more grateful for the existence of a writer. This book is about science, humanity,love, ideas, beauty. There is a refreshing alignment of science with art, in that science is essentially organic art- that is if we judge art to be what inspires. And, it’s about the precious vulnerable smallness we get to feel when astounded by the wonder of the big sky of the anatomy of a daffodil or the upending of love. Maria Popova brings the scientist’s of wonder to life, especially women scientists, who are otherwise unknown (zest least to me). Maria Popova is a scientist of human hearts. She she holds out, with great care, for us to see, what is sweet and tender in the hearts of these greatest of minds. By humanizing their greatness, she lets us see the beautiful in every human, in myself. A main theme is beauty - the people she writes of are driven to genius when awestruck by beauty. And the theme of beauty is within Maria Popova’s gorgeous writing. Very gorgeous, inspiring, and a sense that every word is infused with profound respect and love for her subjects and for the ideas. You’d figure a book about science, poetry, history, love, and everything else human, would get bogged down. It doesn’t. It’s the smoothest read. It feels graciously offered.
53 people found this helpful
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Morris Waxler
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Stunningly beautiful book.
Reviewed in the United States on February 5, 2019
And I have only read the first paragraph, three times.
55 people found this helpful
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Cynthia Woods
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Superb
Reviewed in the United States on February 7, 2019
The first sentence alone is worth the price of this beautiful work of art. I read it over and over, and then typed it up and sent it to a friend. I''m going to commit it to memory, it''s that breathtaking. This book is a treasure. Thank you, Maria Popova!!
44 people found this helpful
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austen
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Meandering, long sentences, lacking cohesion
Reviewed in the United States on March 24, 2019
I have been a fan of Brain Pickings for a couple of years now. Every Sunday morning I anticipate waking up to a nice cup of coffee while perusing this author''s weekly post about a menagerie of subjects. The first paragraph is so eloquently written that I was prompted to... See more
I have been a fan of Brain Pickings for a couple of years now. Every Sunday morning I anticipate waking up to a nice cup of coffee while perusing this author''s weekly post about a menagerie of subjects. The first paragraph is so eloquently written that I was prompted to preorder the book two months in advance of its release. To my disappointment the rest of the book just wasn''t compelling. It''s difficult to keep up with her meandering sentences, where the endings seem to wander off from what the beginning wanted to express. Unlike Proust''s famously long sentences, which eventually gets to the point, many of Maria''s sentences have no point. I kept having to reread, thinking my brain fog nust be setting in. I also don''t particularly like that she keeps referring to same same-sex authors, poets, and scientists, when there are so many amazing artists and scientists to unravel. I will continue enjoying the author''s Brain Pickings blog.
33 people found this helpful
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Tom
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
From the Get-Go
Reviewed in the United States on February 13, 2019
I don''t think I''ve ever reviewed a book I haven''t finished yet, but I feel compelled to fan the flames of this incredible offering. This book, Maria''s Muse, is at once (from the first deliciously long sentence): Captivating, Inspiring, Eloquent, Whimsical and Deeply... See more
I don''t think I''ve ever reviewed a book I haven''t finished yet, but I feel compelled to fan the flames of this incredible offering. This book, Maria''s Muse, is at once (from the first deliciously long sentence): Captivating, Inspiring, Eloquent, Whimsical and Deeply Satisfying. Like beholding and having the first taste of an authentic 11-course Chinese meal, I''m swooning with anticipation of the delights to come. As a fan of "Brain Pickings" I sense what I''m in for, yet also feel certain I''m poised for a transformational experience amidst Ponderables, Ideas and Catalystic Tidbits.
28 people found this helpful
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Pam Mark Hall
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Riveting!
Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2019
I couldn''t put this book down. It required me to really stretch my capacity for comprehending scientific, philosophic, astronomical concepts. Not an easy read, but totally satisfying. I learned about so many important people who have contributed to the multi-faceted... See more
I couldn''t put this book down. It required me to really stretch my capacity for comprehending scientific, philosophic, astronomical concepts. Not an easy read, but totally satisfying. I learned about so many important people who have contributed to the multi-faceted growth of humankind. Kept thinking of Joni Mitchell''s song "We are stardust, we are golden, and we''ve got to get ourselves back to the garden." _ Woodstock
19 people found this helpful
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Griffin
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I Expected Better — Very Disappointed
Reviewed in the United States on March 28, 2020
I originally fell in love with Maria Poppova’s authorial style and her carefully-selected subject matters through her newsletter, BrainPickings, which I am sure many of you are familiar with; and I was happy to find that her voice sneakily and beneficially crept its way... See more
I originally fell in love with Maria Poppova’s authorial style and her carefully-selected subject matters through her newsletter, BrainPickings, which I am sure many of you are familiar with; and I was happy to find that her voice sneakily and beneficially crept its way into my everyday thoughts and reflections. And because of my profound affection for Brainpickings, I have a adopted a fairly rigid Sunday morning routine: I wake up, prepare my coffee, slowly recline in my recliner, then pull up my email browser for a little meditation on Poppova''s exposition on passages/excerpts from Kepler or Darwin or Hawking or some obscure yet beautifully articulate author on a variety of scientific and/or philosophical subjects; and I’ve found that Poppova is great in distributing a fraction of her immense inspiration and insight to her readers in this way. And because of this weekly enjoyment I’m afraid that my positive experience with her newsletter may have inflated my expectations for “Figurings”, a book that now lies among my other ‘finished texts’—despite remaining (rather unfortunately) unfinished. The last 50 pages of the novel are unread and will remain unread for three main reasons:

1. First and foremost, Poppova’s diction is entirely too bombastic, far too verbose for a 500 page novel that is one part Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”, one part “American Transcendentalism”, and five parts a splurging of random, rather dull facts. The majority of the anecdotes are long-winded and disjointed, adding minimal, if any, value to the advancement of the greater novel. And the passages themselves are overly loquacious, to the point where I would graze over half of the sentences in an attempt not to lose complete interest in the text because I wanted to like it—I really did.

Additionally, I can endure the turgidity of, e.g., “Infinite Jest” because there it plays a vital syntactical role in the development of an immensely complex narrative, one that is interwoven skillfully by Foster Wallace to add a profound level of complexity that strategically accentuates the underlying intent of the novel; but here, I do not feel the same—not at all. Too frequently I found her archaic words littered within the text in a way that felt artificial, as if Poppova had a simple statement written down in front of her but, pulling out her dilapidated thesaurus, she then decided it was vital to obscure her argument with a splattering of unnecessarily discursive vocabulary. Her grandiloquence is unappreciated and entirely unnecessary; its inclusion gives off the impression that she is striving to flaunt her academic vernacular (“academese”), showcase some treasure-trove of higher-level vocabulary. This stylistic choice severely lessens the impact and enjoyment intended within the text.

2. Secondly, I discovered in the later chapter that the content of the writing had less to do with the telling of the forgotten tales of successful yet mostly unappreciated women (e.g., Maria Mitchell, Rachel Carson, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Fuller), describing their ground-breaking discoveries/innovations, elaborating on their upbringings and breakthroughs; and it became more about recounting the historical (and sometimes fictitious) events and interests of their ‘uncommon’ love lives. Poppova embarked on a crusade fueled by indignation and sexual strife, literarily battling the discrimination endured by homosexual women today and by the female pioneers of the past (as it seemed to me) to justify her own distinct position as a lesbian in the intellectual community, a community that (as she would want the audience to believe) is a predominantly patriarchal freemasonry of white men in white lab coats with white hair filling white pages in their white books with white noise. She’s not interested in bestowing upon her readers the wisdom of the ages, not hoping to educate us with eloquent tales of cosmological exploration or poetic expression or biological discovery—no, that was not her primary intent; rather, it was to show how each of her biographized characters was a genius, yes, but more importantly a lesbian (like the author), as if justifying first to herself then to us that sexual orientation plays a keen role in the successfulness of feminine scholarly endeavors. Maybe I was indolent in my pre-purchase summary readings because I was perplexed when this hidden agenda sprung itself from the pages. Or, rather, maybe my own biological makeup limits my appreciation of the text. Maybe.

3. The final reason for my (not entirely) negative review of this book, which is similar but distinct from my first, is that the argument she is trying to make—if there even is a central argument—unfortunately lacks any semblance of coherence and continuity. I struggled immensely with discerning what exactly the overarching message was, and the string that tied all of the characters and stories together was far too flimsy for 500+ pages of writing. I was sucked in by the opening passages and introductory passages about Kepler, for example, but my interest wavered and slowly withered as I pressed on; everything became duller and duller as the page number increased. Most of us know that she is a successful curator and ‘knowledge dispenser’ in the medium of a newsletter, a 300-word blurb about this book or that poem, but NOT in the medium of a thick novel with a page count exceeding half a thousand.

Don’t get me wrong, there were parts I did like, passages I did highlight, phrases I did write down, but overall I closed her book overcome by one predominant emotion: disappointment.

In sum, I would not recommend Poppova’s book. If you are not already subscribed to BrainPickings, I would advise looking into that and consider following her there; that is where she shines—not here. A Goodreads review said it best: “And this book, Figuring, will stay un-figured for me for quite some time.”
6 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

Norma B
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Big yellow taxi
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 10, 2019
Good God, even the list of contents is giving me goosebumps. (It''s a list of contents and also a narrative poem.) I think I''ve waited my whole life for this big yellow taxi of a book. ''Figuring'' is biography with a difference. Maria Popova''s subject is life, as well as...See more
Good God, even the list of contents is giving me goosebumps. (It''s a list of contents and also a narrative poem.) I think I''ve waited my whole life for this big yellow taxi of a book. ''Figuring'' is biography with a difference. Maria Popova''s subject is life, as well as lives. The lives she illuminates are dozens, spanning centuries, and she touches upon hundreds more, in a vast web of relations. A web of genius! The thrill of making those connections, as a reader, between one extraordinary human being and several others is reason enough to get hold of ''Figuring''. Last month I told the two most intelligent people I know about Maria Popova''s weekly online posting,''Brain Pickings''. Both said they were already signed up. ''But of course,'' I thought. For where else would those magical thinkers go, if not to the heart of what matters, in science and poetry, in 2019 and in any time, in lives and in life? Well, ''Figuring'' is a sustained, expansive fruit from the same brilliant tree. Read it if you like ''lives'', or biography, and love life. Read it if you admire - or miss - greatness. Read it and grieve as well as sing. (I promise you, you''ll also sing.)
31 people found this helpful
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Giorgia
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brainpickings in a book.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 26, 2019
How do I begin to explain this book.. If you know about or are a reader of brainpickings.org then all I have to say is that this book is like a lengthier version of that. Popova curated facts and ideas from an array of people who are as varied as humanly possible. The whole...See more
How do I begin to explain this book.. If you know about or are a reader of brainpickings.org then all I have to say is that this book is like a lengthier version of that. Popova curated facts and ideas from an array of people who are as varied as humanly possible. The whole idea for the book is wonderful really, and I''m not using that word out of some sort of habit but because I mean it... I''ve been a fan of the blog for yearsss and I always check for emails that alert me of the next blog post, so much that it''s become part of my routine. I loved how this book was put together. I found myself highlighting and marking almost every one of the 500 + pages because the words were just screaming their relevance at me.. if that even makes sense. (I wish I had read the ebook just so that I could share my highlights with everyone). Some phrases can be a little mind-bending and you find yourself reading the same thing 3 times just to make sure you really take in the meaning, but it''s worth it. I really have no way of summarising this book, therefore I will only say that I recommend it wholeheartedly, especially to readers of the blog. I also recognize that it can be a little hard to digest at times because while the prose is beautiful it can also make meaning a little bit harder to grasp. I personally love staring at a sentence and reading it out loud a few times not just because I like what I read in terms of facts but also because the language used is wonderful. I''ve been reading passages from this for months now. It’s the kind of thing you can take your time with and also the kind you can revisit as often as you want because those words never stop being relevant. I''m just gonna leave some quotes here (they are from the start of the book, where we are being given a short introduction into what''s to follow and the questions that led to the creation of this book): “We spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins. We snatch our freeze-frame of life from the simultaneity of existence by holding on to illusions of permanence, congruence, and linearity; of static selves and lives that unfold in sensical narratives. All the while, we mistake chance for choice, our labels, and models of things for the things themselves, our records for our history. History is not what happened, but what survives the shipwrecks of judgment and chance[....] We slice through the simultaneity by being everything at once: our first names and our last names, our loneliness and our society, our bold ambition and our blind hope, our unrequited and part-requited loves. Lives are lived in parallel and perpendicular, fathomed nonlinearly, figured not in the straight graphs of “biography” but in many-sided, many-splendored diagrams. Lives interweave with other lives, and out of the tapestry arise hints at answers to questions that raze to the bone of life: What are the building blocks of character, of contentment, of lasting achievement? How does a person come into self-possession and sovereignty of mind against the tide of convention and unreasoning collectivism? Does genius suffice for happiness, does distinction, does love? Two Nobel Prizes don’t seem to recompense the melancholy radiating from every photograph of the woman in the black laboratory dress. Is success a guarantee of fulfillment, or merely a promise as precarious as a marital vow? How, in this blink of existence bookended by nothingness, do we attain completeness of being? There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives. So much of the beauty, so much of what propels our pursuit of truth, stems from the invisible connections—between ideas, between disciplines, between the denizens of a particular time and a particular place, between the interior world of each pioneer and the mark they leave on the cave walls of culture, between faint figures who pass each other in the nocturne before the torchlight of a revolution lights the new day, with little more than a half-nod of kinship and a match to change hands.
6 people found this helpful
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Rosarissa
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
My new favourite book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 28, 2019
I''m 1/3 of the way through this book and adore it so much I am not sure I can do it justice in a review. I wish I could give it 10 stars. It is absolutely beautiful. It has introduced me to a huge variety of historic figures I had heard of but couldn''t tell you a thing...See more
I''m 1/3 of the way through this book and adore it so much I am not sure I can do it justice in a review. I wish I could give it 10 stars. It is absolutely beautiful. It has introduced me to a huge variety of historic figures I had heard of but couldn''t tell you a thing about (I can now!), and new historic figures that are rarely mentioned in school or popular culture but formed a movement of thought that changed the world. It draws out themes in life, love and death and offers new perceptions for living through them. I''ve been inspired, touched, shocked, and educated, all in Maria Popova''s wonderfully lucid prose. Her writing surely adds her to the ranks of philosophers and creators she writes about - she has perfectly articulated ideas far beyond my comprehension and made them not only accessible but poetic and certainly memorable. I have simultaneously found it hard to put this book down, and also hard to pick up because I just don''t want it to end! Whilst I think it is wise to approach any biography of the dead with an awareness of the author''s bias, and I am not well read enough to contradict anything said, I do believe this is an excellent basis from which to go and find out more and use as a reliable reference point. Ultimately, this book has had a very personal, and profound effect on me, on my belief in myself and my aspirations, my perception of my place in the world, and what it means to be alive.
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The Reader
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Love what I want her to be
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 18, 2019
I love literature, reading, writing. I wanted to love this book so much. But i didn''t quite - she is a great writer but sometimes overwrites and makes connections that are a little too far fetched. If you love the blog, still worth giving it a shot but don''t have too high...See more
I love literature, reading, writing. I wanted to love this book so much. But i didn''t quite - she is a great writer but sometimes overwrites and makes connections that are a little too far fetched. If you love the blog, still worth giving it a shot but don''t have too high expectations
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Safist
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant Remembrance of Women Past
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 24, 2019
This is a brilliant, wise book by a brilliant, wise Maria Popova. I''ve highlighted so much of the book on Kindle that it really would have made more sense to highlight the bits I didn''t want to highlight. Of course that would be somewhat counterproductive since the whole...See more
This is a brilliant, wise book by a brilliant, wise Maria Popova. I''ve highlighted so much of the book on Kindle that it really would have made more sense to highlight the bits I didn''t want to highlight. Of course that would be somewhat counterproductive since the whole point of highlighting is to preserve, treasure & rapidly refer back. So much is worth treasuring. I was fascinated by the chapters on Emily Dickinson and Maria Mitchell was a real revelation but the book is jam packed with insights & unsuspected connections. Also a revelation was the influence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Aurora Leigh” on the consciousness & self confidence of independent thinking women in America in the 19th Century. I can almost see that long unbroken line from them through Eleanor Roosevelt to the modern Elizabeth Warren & Alexandria Occasio-Cortez. Excellent book.
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