Tag Archives For: women

18 Aug, 2016

The Other Einstein

/ posted in: Reading The Other Einstein The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict
on October 18th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Switzerland and Serbia
Goodreads

“What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.”


Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva Maric

This was one of the books that I was most excited about after BEA. It is a book that seems designed just for me.

  • Historical fiction ✔️
  • About women’s history ✔️
  • Science ✔️

So why did I delay reading this until now?

Every time I picked it up I couldn’t quite bring myself to read it.  I knew what it was going to be.  It is yet another story of a woman who was forced to give up her own ambitions to fit in with the mores of her time.  Honestly, the thought exhausted me.

The book is a well written story of the life of Mileva Maric.  She was a Serbian woman who attended university in Zurich in physics.  She was Einstein’s classmate.  She finished her coursework but failed her degree.  She had a child with Einstein before they married.  That child either died young or was given up for adoption.  Nothing is known for sure.  After their marriage they had two sons.  They divorced when he was having an affair.  His mother didn’t like her because Mileva was an inferior dark-skinned Slavic person.  (I don’t know.  She looks pretty pale to me but I’m Slavic too so Mama Einstein probably wouldn’t have cared for my opinion either.)

It isn’t known if she helped him with his scientific work.  There are some letters from him to her where he refers to “our work” but it is earlier in the relationship.  This book imagines that she had the idea for relativity and worked on the math.

What follows is a story of erasure.  Her name isn’t on the paper because it wouldn’t look good that he needed the help of a woman.  He stops asking her for advice.  She feels like he sees her as just a housewife.  He spends more and more time away and blames her for being selfish if she questions him.  He tries to impose a bizarre contract on her in order to keep the marriage together for the sake of the children.

“CONDITIONS

A. You will make sure:

1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:

1. my sitting at home with you;
2. my going out or travelling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.”  Source

This is the part that was hard to read.  I wish I was more surprised by it but my feeling as I was reading this was, “Yeah, same ol’ same ol'”  This is the story of ambitious women from the beginning of time.

I was thrilled when she was awarded the proceeds of any future Nobel Prize in the divorce settlement.  You go girl!  She got it too.  That’s actual historical fact.  Actually she got to live on the interest from it which she invested in rental properties.


I’d recommend this book to any historical fiction fans.

4flower

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15 Jan, 2016

Ada’s Algorithm

/ posted in: Reading Ada’s Algorithm Ada's Algorithm by James Essinger
on September 28th 2015
Pages: 272
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England

Over 150 years after her death, a widely-used scientific computer program was named "Ada," after Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of the eighteenth century's version of a rock star, Lord Byron. Why?
Because, after computer pioneers such as Alan Turing began to rediscover her, it slowly became apparent that she had been a key but overlooked figure in the invention of the computer.

Goodreads

Ada Lovelace’s life sounds like it was made just for the tabloids.

Her father was the poet Lord Byron.  He was famous in England for his legendary affairs as well as for his poetry.  He decided to marry when he was in need of a major influx of cash to keep up his lavish lifestyle.  He married a heiress and soon fathered his only legitimate child, Ada.  His wife soon found out that he was still carrying on affairs, including one with his half-sister.  (Apparently, it didn’t count as real incest because they didn’t share the same mother.) She took Ada and left when the baby was one month old.  Lord Byron left England soon after, never to return.

Ada’s mother was determined not to let her child fall victim to the overactive imagination that she thought plagued the Byron line.  She had her schooled in mathematics.

Two events focused the direction of Ada’s life.  First, she learned about the Jacquard Loom.  This was an automated loom that used punch cards to tell the loom what threads to raise and lower.  Very complex patterns could be made this way.

This is considered the first computer program.

Secondly, she met Charles Babbage.  He was working on machines that could do complex mathematical problems.  She was fascinated by his work and started to help him figure it out.  She was also able to imagine the implications of the machine.  Her vision eclipsed anything Babbage had considered.  She published a translation of an article on Babbage and added extensive notes that explained what a future with computing machines could look like.

The combination of the “overly imaginative” Byron line and her mathematical education created a visionary.

However, as a woman, she knew she wouldn’t be taken seriously.  At first she didn’t even want to put her name on the article that became known as her Notes.  Babbage persuaded her to at least put her initials.  Over the years, her contributions to his work were downplayed.  Letters written late in her life when she was heavily drugged against the pain of terminal uterine cancer were used to claim that she was a madwoman.  However, letters to and from Babbage show that she was highly involved and that he valued her work.

Alan Turing referred to her work in the 1940s and 1950s when he was laying out the foundations for modern computing.  He called it the Lovelace objection.  She wrote that machines can only do what they are programmed to do.  He said that she meant that computers can’t take us by surprise.

Babbage ended up rejecting a proposal from Lovelace where she offered to essentially be his spokesman for his analytical engine.  She knew that he didn’t have the people skills to get it the exposure that she could.  She was right.  He never got it made.  Some historians now think that if he had listened to her about its potential that England could have had a technological revolution in the mid-1800s. This model was made later.

My favorite quote from this book sums up Babbage.  In college he and a group of friends “… founded a club which they called The Extractors, designed to help its members should any of them be the subject of a petition to get them sent to a lunatic asylum.”  Planning ahead is important.  It doesn’t seem that they never needed to invoke it.

This book is an excellent look at the life of an extraordinary woman.  She died at the age of 36.  Imagine what she could have accomplished had she lived longer.

The featured image at the top of the post is Ada’s Algorithm that she developed when working with Babbage.  My only issue with this book is that I found myself skipping over long passages quoted from her writing on mathematical theory.  My brain doesn’t like that kind of thing.

18 Dec, 2015

Gibbon’s Decline and Fall

/ posted in: Reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall Gibbon's Decline and Fall by Sheri S. Tepper
on 1997-06
Pages: 480
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in New Mexico

A wave of fundamentalism is sweeping across the globe as the millennium approaches, and a power-hungry  presidential candidate sees his ticket to success in making an example out of a teenage girl who abandoned her infant in a Dumpster. Taking the girl's case is Carolyn Crespin, a former attorney, who left her job for a quiet family life. Now she must call upon five friends from college, who took a vow to always stand together. But their success might depend on the assistance of Sophy, the enigmatic sixth friend, whom they all believed dead.

Goodreads

In 1959 a group of college freshmen bonded over making a very beautiful girl look ugly in order to help her avoid male attention. Part of her disguise was carrying Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The women call themselves the Decline and Fall Club.

Now it is the year 2000. The group still gathers annually.

Bettiann– A former beauty queen who became anorexic. She married a rich man and spends her time on charities.

Ophy – She became a doctor in an inner city ER.

Jessamine – She is a PhD who works with primate behavior.

Faye – a famous sculptor

Carolyn – a lawyer who is coming out of retirement to handle the case of a teenager who was gang raped, got pregnant, and is accused of murdering the resultant baby.

Agnes – She always wanted to be a nun but was required to get a MBA before joining in order to develop a company to make the order self sustaining. She is now Mother Superior and has been ordered by her bishop to hand over her business to local men because it isn’t proper for women to have jobs.

Sophy – Probably Native American but she would never confirm that. Traveled the world collecting women’s stories and wrote books. Disappeared three years ago but everyone else in the group thinks that they are being haunted by her.

The world in this version of 2000 has been very violent. Gangs of men are in the streets trying to shame women whom they consider to be immoral. However, slowly people are starting to notice that violent crime is dropping. The divorce rate is going up. Rapes went up sharply and then decreased. What does this have to do with Sophy’s disappearance and bands of old ladies vandalizing fashion stores?


I love Sherri S. Tepper’s books.  They are wonderfully, wholeheartedly, unashamedly feminist books.  If you like Margaret Atwood, consider reading Tepper.  I recommend The Fresco for a starting point in her books.

Sort of Spoilers

 

The end of the book offers a discussion what you would choose of the following options:

  • Heterosexual couples bond in monogamous pairs and can reproduce once every decade if they choose
  • Females become able to reproduce without men like some lizards
  • Puberty is delayed so only mature adults are able to reproduce
  • The world is similar to now but women can only get pregnant if they make a conscious decision to allow it
  • Keep the world the way it is now

What would you choose and why?

I would choose option 1.  That eliminates all the drama between people over sexual attraction and fidelity and keeps the population down.

19 Oct, 2015

Finding Nouf: a mystery set in Saudi Arabia

/ posted in: Reading Finding Nouf:  a mystery set in Saudi Arabia Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
on 2009-05
Pages: 305
Series: Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #1
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Fast-paced and utterly transporting, "Finding Nouf" is a riveting literary mystery and an unprecedented window into the lives of men and women in Saudi Arabia.
When sixteen-year-old Nouf goes missing, her prominent family calls on Nayir al-Sharqi, a pious desert guide, to lead the search party. Ten days later, just as Nayir is about to give up in frustration, her body is discovered by anonymous desert travelers. But when the coroner's office determines that Nouf died not of dehydration but from drowning, and her family seems suspiciously uninterested in getting at the truth, Nayir takes it upon himself to find out what really happened.

Goodreads

When a 16 year old girl from a wealthy Saudi family goes missing along with a truck and her camel, her family assumes that she ran into the desert.  They hire their desert guide Nayir Sharqi to lead the search team.  When she is found, the official story of her death and recovery don’t make sense to him.  Then a family member asks him to investigate to find out what really happened.

The mystery of what happened to Nouf wasn’t the point of this book for me.  Nayir is a very devout Palestinian man living in Saudi Arabia.  He was raised by his unmarried uncle.  He has almost no contact with women at all.  He doesn’t understand them and this society doesn’t allow him to meet them.  He starts to realize the depth of his ignorance when trying to understand the motivation of Nouf.  He is also uncomfortable to be working with Katya, a woman in the pathology lab and the fiance of his contact in the Shrawi family.

I found the explanations of the gender conflict in Saudi Arabia to be the most interesting parts of the book. 

Nayir is talking to Muhammad, Nouf’s paid escort for when she wanted to leave the family compound without one of her brothers.  He introduced his wife, Hend.

“Nayir sipped his tea and marveled at the casual way that Muhammad had spoken of his wife.  There had been no need to explain who she was, and telling Nayir her name was something else entirely.  It put Muhammad squarely in the category of young infidel wannabe.  Gone were the days of calling one’s wife “the mother of Muhammad Junior”; today women had first names, last names, jobs and whatnot.  He wondered how many men had known Nouf’s name.”


Later there is this sign at the zoo.

CHILDREN MAY BE ACCOMPANIED BY EITHER THEIR MOTHER OR FATHER BUT NOT BOTH PARENTS.  BOYS OVER THE AGE OF 10 ARE CONSIDERED ADULTS.


Even the women have been conditioned to think this is normal.  In this passage Katya is thinking about her fiance and his attitude towards her.

“With dismay, she came upon a painful truth:  that a modern, enlightened man like Othman, the sort of man who could actually meet a woman in public and not think she was a whore, might not have enough within him to sustain a passionate relationship.”

 

I was reading this book on vacation at the pool when a Muslim family came in.  The mother and teenage daughter were wearing hijabs and long sleeved, long pant bathing suits.  The adult male was wearing swimming trunks and showing off his tattoos.  The double standard was jarring especially while reading about so many examples of women being treated as lesser beings in this book. If women choose to dress modestly because they believe it is part of the tenets of their religion, fine. But if they are told that they have to because they are responsible for hiding themselves to protect men from having to control their thoughts, then that is not ok.

While being forced to work with and consider the lives of women over the course of the investigation, Nayir starts to reconsider his ideas of proper etiquette.  There are two more books in the series and I am interested in reading them to see how this develops.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

12 Oct, 2015

Hammered Trilogy

/ posted in: Reading Hammered Trilogy Hammered by Elizabeth Bear
on April 30th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, General
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Once Jenny Casey was somebody's daughter. Once she was somebody's enemy. Now the former Canadian special forces warrior lives on the hellish streets of Hartford, Connecticut, in the year 2062.
Wracked with pain, hiding from the government she served, running with a crime lord so she can save a life or two, Jenny is a month shy of fifty, and her artificially reconstructed body has started to unravel. But she is far from forgotten. A government scientist needs the perfect subject for a high-stakes project and has Jenny in his sights.
Suddenly Jenny Casey is a pawn in a furious battle, waged in the corridors of the Internet, on the streets of battered cities, and in the complex wirings of her half-man-made nervous system. And she needs to gain control of the game before a brave new future spins completely out of control.

Goodreads

It is 2062.

  • The United States is no longer a world power after being taken over by the Christian Fascist Party.
  • Canada and China are the newest superpowers
  • Wars in the 2030s destroyed countries.
  • Rising oceans destroyed many more and the collapse of the Gulf Stream was the final blow for England.

Jenny Casey is a veteran of many of Canada’s wars in the 2030s.  She was horrifically injured and was rebuilt using at the time state of the art cybernetics.  Now her tech is breaking down and everything hurts.  She is living in Hartford Connecticut, a gang run city.  She works as a mechanic and helps patch up kids in her neighborhood caught up in gang violence.  There are rumors of her past but no one pays much attention to an old lady minding her own business.

The Chinese have sent spaceships towards a potentially habitable moon.  It will take them hundreds of years to get there.  Now Canada wants to catch up.  Both Canada and China are building ships that travel faster than light but no one is able to pilot them.  They keep crashing into planets.  They need pilots with superhuman reflexes.  They can be made using nanotechnology found in ships left crashed on Mars by unknown aliens.  Already that tech is being used to reverse engineer new human technology.  Jenny could be rebuilt and augmented to see if she could fly the ships.  She was an amazing pilot even as a regular human.  She isn’t interested in getting involved with the Canadian Army again but they aren’t giving her a choice.


 

I heard about this series on a Book Riot list about books with protagonists over the age of 40.  In this three book series, Jenny goes from living in Hartford and working with gang leaders to living and working on the spaceship Montreal and working with politicians and officers.  She wouldn’t necessarily say that it was an improvement.

She sees people that she loves pulled into the deadly political games being played with her future and the future of the space program and even the future of life on Earth.

What I Liked

  • The world building was very good.  The history that leads the world to the state it is in makes sense and is possible.
  • Canada and China are enemies but individuals of each country are portrayed as complete and complex people who are able to get along one on one.
  • An artificial intelligence is developed.  I loved him.
  • There are drawbacks to enhancing people with nanotechnology.  Most of the pilots develop forms of autism and have to deal with the repercussions of that.
  • There is a complicated polyamorous relationship which is something that you don’t usually see.

What Could Be Better

  • The second book in the series drug for me.  The ending was good but it took a long time to get to the exciting parts.

scardown worldwired

03 Oct, 2015

Sisters in Law

/ posted in: Reading Sisters in Law Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman
on September 1st 2015
Pages: 416
Length: 13:29
Genres: History
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The relationship between Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—Republican and Democrat, Christian and Jew, western rancher's daughter and Brooklyn girl—transcends party, religion, region, and culture. Strengthened by each other's presence, these groundbreaking judges, the first and second women to serve on the highest court in the land, have transformed the Constitution and America itself, making it a more equal place for all women.
Linda Hirshman's dual biography includes revealing stories of how these trailblazers fought for recognition in a male-dominated profession—battles that would ultimately benefit every American woman. Hirshman also makes clear how these two justices have shaped the legal framework of modern feminism, setting precedent in cases dealing with employment discrimination, abortion, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and many other issues crucial to women's lives.
Sisters in Law combines legal detail with warm personal anecdotes, bringing these very different women into focus as never before. Meticulously researched and compellingly told, it is an authoritative account of our changing law and culture, and a moving story of a remarkable friendship.

Goodreads

I went into this book having read Sandra Day O’Conner’s book but I didn’t know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

O’Conner is from Arizona. She grew up on a ranch. She went to Stanford Law School where she didn’t experience much discrimination for being a woman because Stanford was a fairly new school that just needed bodies. However, when she graduated near the top of her class, the only job she was offered was as a legal secretary. She became a Republican state senator and eventually a judge.

Ginsburg is from Brooklyn. She went to Harvard Law which was much more set in its discriminatory ways. The women in her class were invited to attend a dinner where they were forced to explain how they justified taking a seat in law school that should belong to a man. She went on to argue six major cases in front of the Supreme Court that helped establish legal equality for women in the 1970s. She then became a federal judge.

What I noticed over and over in this book was that even though they were discriminated against as women they had extraordinary privilege otherwise. Each of them had connections with several prominent politicians and/or political advisors who they lobbied to advance their careers. They have stories that prove that success is based a lot on who you know.

Of the two stories I found Ginsburg’s life more interesting. It is good to remember what rights we take for granted now that were so controversial in my lifetime. The importance of diversity on the court becomes apparent in discussions when male justices reveal that they think the lives of most women are similar to the lives of their wealthy wives and daughters. Later they were unable to sympathize with a 13 year old girl strip searched at school.

This author did a good job of making fine points of case law accessible and understandable for non lawyers.

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