3 New Books About Revolutionary Women
TIME Magazine just released their “Person of the Year” issue, awarding the title to some pretty awesome women who revolutionized the way we talk about and believe sexual harassment. Want to read about some more revolutionary women? You’re in luck, because this week’s book club comes stuffed with new releases about women who have created — or are creating — great change in the way the world works. If you’re feeling burnt out, get revved up with these stories.
1. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge ($27): As we’ve seen this year, talking (or not talking) about certain vital issues can be a revolutionary act. Eddo-Lodge, a London journalist, made major waves in 2014 with a viral blog post of the same title as her new book. Eddo-Lodge was fed up with the way conversations about race were being led and dismissed by the very people who were causing the issues in the first place, and the people who were the least affected by them. “I’m no longer engaging with white people on the topic of race,” she wrote. “Not all white people, just the vast majority who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms. I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.”
Her frustrations were echoed by many who shared her experience, but Eddo-Lodge was also surprised by the number of white people who apologized for her pain and asked her not to give up. This wasn’t the point, either, she writes: “It was never written with the intention of prompting guilt in white people, or to provoke any kind of epiphany… This all seemed strange and slightly uncomfortable to me. Because in writing that blog post, all I had felt I was saying was that I had had enough.”
Since the post, Eddo-Lodge, though, has rarely stopped talking about race. Shutting herself off, though tempting, was not ultimately an option. So, don’t let the title fool you; what follows is a long, frank, and well-informed talk about race, Britain’s long and violent history of racism, and what its perpetrators (witting or having the privilege to be unwitting) can do about it. “I’ve written this book to articulate that feeling of having your voice and confidence snatched away from you in the cocky face of the status quo. It has been written to counter the lack of historical knowledge and the political backdrop you need to anchor your opposition to racism.” Eddo-Lodge’s book has already won a number of awards, such as both Foyles and Blackwell’s Non-Fiction Book of the Year, and has been longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction. It’s worth it to listen.
2. Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones ($32): Parsons’ long life, spanning from 1851 to 1942, was a turbulent one, much like the times she lived in. “Public speaker, editor, free-speech activist, essayist, fiction writer, publisher, and political commentator, Parsons was one of only a handful of women in her day, and virtually the only person of African descent, apart from Frederick Douglass, to speak regularly to large audiences… She was a courageous advocate of First Amendment rights, notable for her confrontational tactics and what many considered her shocking language in pursuit of those rights.” Parsons’ outspoken nature belied the fact that very few knew any details about her personal life… until now.
Born to an enslaved woman, Parsons married the white Albert Parsons at 21, and the two became socialists and then anarchists of the class struggle, working with an anti-capitalist and pro-union message by any means necessary. Albert was convicted of murder and conspiracy in the Chicago Haymarket Square bombing in 1886. After his death by hanging, Lucy toured and gave speeches about the trial’s unfair nature, and the corrupting influence of money.
Jones, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, offers a portrait of Parsons that is as complex as her subject. She pays respect to Parsons’ achievements in oratory and agitation, but is neither hagiographic or sentimental about her methods and decisions, which include creating a false Hispanic-Indian identity while ignoring issues vital to African-Americans, embracing traditional gender roles, and being a proponent of extreme violence. “On countless occasions she defied the attempts of the authorities to silence her,” Jones writes, continuing to break that silence with her book.
3. Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini ($27): If you don’t know Ada Lovelace, you really should, because you’re probably reading this on some kind of computer. Lovelace was the first person to think up the idea of computer programming, based on the mechanics of looms. However, instead of fame and fortune for this revolutionary thought, she joined the line of women deliberately overlooked and forgotten for their achievements. Jennifer Chiaverini, author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, seeks to rectify this with a new historical novel purporting to be Ada’s memoir, with chapter titles via the poetry of her father, Lord Byron.
Ada was Lord Byron’s only legitimate child. Her mother, Annabella, had great plans for her marriage: “I want to marry Byron. I love him. Everything will be fine once we’re married and he learns to conform to my wishes, as he has promised,” Chiaverini writes, but, when none of this came to pass, she became estranged from her legendarily profligate husband. She then took pains to ensure that Ada was spared her father’s reputation. To her controlling and exacting mother, this means delivering an education focused on math and sciences, and forbidding any of the more dangerously creative humanities, such as poetry.
However, once Ada meets and befriends the older inventor Charles Babbage (creator of the Difference Engine and its successor, the Analytical Engine), she becomes more creative in finding solutions to his computing problems than anyone could ever dream. Though her genius was irrepressible and she had the support of her husband, William, Lord King, and her friend Mary Somerville, she found a society eager to repress any credit she got for her work. Even her husband and Babbage didn’t understand what the matter was; of course, she would only assist a man. Despite this, Lovelace’s contributions changed the way the world works today. Now, she can help us change our minds about history.
What books do you find revolutionary? Tag us in your next remarkable read @BritandCo.
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