Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions & Heretics by Jason Porath. ★★★★
Several years ago I stumbled across the blog Rejected Princesses. Jason Porath, a former animator at Dreamworks, one day had a conversation about what women were too out there to ever become a Disney princess movie. The result was Rejected Princesses, a blog full of illustrated entries of women from history and folklore. This book collects twenty entries from the website plus eighty entirely new entries, the vast majority of whom I’d never heard of before.
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. ★★★★★
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is an absolutely delightful graphic novel that contains a wealth of historical information regarding Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, and the history of computing while at the same time being relentlessly entertaining.
The book begins with a brief history of Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, and their work on the invention of the computer and computer programming. However, both died before any of the machines Babbage planned were ever invented. And so Padua imagines an alternate ending – a world where their Analytical Engine reached completion and adventures ensue.
The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford. ★★★★★
A section from the ancient text The Secret History of the Mongols was cut away by censors, leaving only these words of Genghis Khan: “Let us reward our female offspring.” In The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, Jack Weatherford chronicles the stories of Genghis Khan’s daughters and the queens who came after them. The stories of many of these women have been largely forgotten in the mainstream historical narrative, but they had important and overlooked roles in Mongol history.
The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code is an appealing non-fiction account of the deciphering of the script Linear B and in particular the woman who was vital to its solution.
In 1900 archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans uncovered a catch of fired clay tablets in Crete, the earliest writing ever discovered in Europe. These tablets were inscribed with two unknown writing systems – Linear A and Linear B. There were not enough samples of Linear A for it to be decoded (it still hasn’t to this day), but there were over 2,000 tablets containing Linear B. If these tablets could be translated, they would provide a wealth of information about a complex civilization that predated Homer. The catch? They were written in an unknown writing system encoding an unknown language, and there was nothing like the Rosetta Stone to help archaeologists out. Linear B was the great puzzle of the 20th century.
Revolutionary Mothers is an overview of the role women played in the revolutionary war. Since it was a home front war, American women were very close with the events. Among other roles, some acted as spies or messengers, organized funds for the troops, took care of homes and businesses while the men were away, or were actively involved in battles.
Revolutionary Mothers is a short, fairly general overview of the topic at hand. I think it is most suitable as supplemental material for a history course or as an introduction to the topic. I would have appreciated more depth to some sections, but perhaps the material was too scarce for this to be possible.
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor. ★★★★★
She-Wolves is a very engaging piece of nonfiction which chronicles the lives of four English queens: Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou.
The book was framed around the year 1553 when King Edward VI died and all potential heirs was female. It introduces the idea that England would for the first time have a queen, but then gave the event context by going back to the biographies of the four previous female rulers. The end of the book contains a brief section on the three queens after 1553 (Jane Grey, Mary, and Elizabeth) and examining how they presented themselves as queen and utilized power.
Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines by Jeannine Davis-Kimball.★ ★ ★ ★
I enjoyed Warrior Women, but it was also frustrating in some ways – she only talks about areas that she’s had personal experience with, such as the Chinese mummies, which didn’t really fit with the “Hidden Heroine” topic. The title also lead me to believe that the book was mainly about, well, warrior women. In reality, they only made up one chapter, maybe two if you count the chapter on the Amazons, whom have no evidence of actually existing but were probably made up based on stories of foreign women to keep Greek women in line.
The book also only covers Eurasia. In the second to last page, she mentions that an ancient North African kingdom trained women as bodyguards. Why not more information?
I think part of the brevity is the lack of information on general. Really, all we know about the ancient warrior women in the steppes was that they existed. Their nomadic tribes didn’t have any written language, so all the evidence comes from burial goods. Plus, the presence of women buried with weapons was ignored for many years by the archaeological establishment.
Still, the book did contain some fascinating tidbits and was easy to read. I would recommend it as an introduction to the topic. It gave me other avenues to explore in my reading.