SOCIAL SCIENCES

Figuring

Pantheon. Feb. 2019. 592p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781524748135. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781524748142. BIOG
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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.

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