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Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties

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Women and the Fifties: you will be amazed. "A gallery of vividly drawn portraits - witty, poignant, inspiriting - that opens up a new front in our understanding of the 'lost' Fifties" - David Kynaston, author of Modernity Britain "Rachel Cooke shines a new light in an elegantly original way into the 1950s and especially into the role of women therein. By cleverly focussing Women and the Fifties: you will be amazed. "A gallery of vividly drawn portraits - witty, poignant, inspiriting - that opens up a new front in our understanding of the 'lost' Fifties" - David Kynaston, author of Modernity Britain "Rachel Cooke shines a new light in an elegantly original way into the 1950s and especially into the role of women therein. By cleverly focussing on the lives of several extraordinary woman, she manages to produce a social history which is highly absorbing and richly informative. A very enjoyable and distinctive book" - Kate Atkinson


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Women and the Fifties: you will be amazed. "A gallery of vividly drawn portraits - witty, poignant, inspiriting - that opens up a new front in our understanding of the 'lost' Fifties" - David Kynaston, author of Modernity Britain "Rachel Cooke shines a new light in an elegantly original way into the 1950s and especially into the role of women therein. By cleverly focussing Women and the Fifties: you will be amazed. "A gallery of vividly drawn portraits - witty, poignant, inspiriting - that opens up a new front in our understanding of the 'lost' Fifties" - David Kynaston, author of Modernity Britain "Rachel Cooke shines a new light in an elegantly original way into the 1950s and especially into the role of women therein. By cleverly focussing on the lives of several extraordinary woman, she manages to produce a social history which is highly absorbing and richly informative. A very enjoyable and distinctive book" - Kate Atkinson

30 review for Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I loved the author's introduction, as much as reading about each of these amazing women. This is not your traditional biography. "These women were not friends, or members of the same gang or organization." They represent the culture of the fifties and they had pluck and ambition in spades. I loved the author's introduction, as much as reading about each of these amazing women. This is not your traditional biography. "These women were not friends, or members of the same gang or organization." They represent the culture of the fifties and they had pluck and ambition in spades.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    It's not really surprising that the women of the 1950's weren't all obedient housewives content to stay home while their husbands went out and conquered the world, but it is fun to read about some of the more outstanding rule flouters. The lively, enthusiastic style of writing makes this joint biography of unconventional women in a more conventional time very entertaining to read. Included among the ten women profiled is an archaeologist, an architect, a rally car driver, a magazine editor, a mo It's not really surprising that the women of the 1950's weren't all obedient housewives content to stay home while their husbands went out and conquered the world, but it is fun to read about some of the more outstanding rule flouters. The lively, enthusiastic style of writing makes this joint biography of unconventional women in a more conventional time very entertaining to read. Included among the ten women profiled is an archaeologist, an architect, a rally car driver, a magazine editor, a movie director, and Nancy Spain, who can best be described as a size large personality. Spain is the only one I had heard of before, and all of the women (and the author) are British which means Her Brilliant Career gives its readers a glimpse of post-WWII life and cultural mores in Britain--another perk for me because I haven't read much about the era between the Blitz and the Swinging Sixties. Two other fun features of the book are its subversive novels list and select bibliography--I always love a book that increases my To-Be-Read pile.

  3. 5 out of 5

    ambyr

    Fluffy but engaging, this was the perfect audio read. Cooke is more gossip columnist than historian, and my biggest frustration with this book was how often, despite its putative focus, she let the women's careers take back-seat to breathless descriptions of their scandalous personal lives. (My second-biggest frustration is that one woman's husband is described as having "enjoyed and participated in every known kind of sexual perversion" with absolutely no details given beyond mention of a fairl Fluffy but engaging, this was the perfect audio read. Cooke is more gossip columnist than historian, and my biggest frustration with this book was how often, despite its putative focus, she let the women's careers take back-seat to breathless descriptions of their scandalous personal lives. (My second-biggest frustration is that one woman's husband is described as having "enjoyed and participated in every known kind of sexual perversion" with absolutely no details given beyond mention of a fairly pedestrian heterosexual affair. In a gossip columnist, I feel this sort of elision is a failing.) But the women's dedication to work nonetheless shines through. I was particularly captivated by the descriptions of Margery Fish's contributions to gardening (probably because of all the fields covered in this book, I know the most about gardening; I even have enough formal education in garden design history to recognize the names dropped in this chapter, as I seldom did elsewhere in the book) and of Rose Heilbron's high-profile court cases (of all the people discussed, Heilbron was the one I would most have liked to have heard about in more depth). The discussion of Nancy Spain, Joan Werner Laurie, and Sheila van Damm's tangled lesbian V was entertaining in a prurient sense, but of the three of them only van Damm really shone as an individual working woman--I wanted more about her racing career, too. I probably would have enjoyed the chapter on Alison Smithson more if the mere mention of Brutalism didn't make me want to shake my fist on general principle. The book ended so abruptly I had to double-check to make sure my audio file hadn't been corrupted, and I wish Cooke had shown more interest in contextualizing these women and discussing broader social trends. In short, this is not a great work of history or literature. But it was fun, and I'm rating it accordingly.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Loz

    This could have been a fascinating read but as another reviewer below said, the book needs heavy editing and far fewer footnotes, or at least ones which are more relevant. For example, in the first paragraph about Nancy Spain, Cooke writes "In 1956 Hutchinson & Co. published an autobiography by the well-known personality Nancy Spain*" where the asterisk leads to the note "Before there were celebrities... there were personalities." This feels a bit pointless, even were it to be included in the ma This could have been a fascinating read but as another reviewer below said, the book needs heavy editing and far fewer footnotes, or at least ones which are more relevant. For example, in the first paragraph about Nancy Spain, Cooke writes "In 1956 Hutchinson & Co. published an autobiography by the well-known personality Nancy Spain*" where the asterisk leads to the note "Before there were celebrities... there were personalities." This feels a bit pointless, even were it to be included in the main text. In the same chapter, after telling us about Spain's journalistic work being syndicated to a number of newspapers, Cooke gives us another note telling us that she also got work in radio playing the heroine in "an adaptation of Winifred Winston's 1935 novel about Weardale." The note goes on to say "One can only imagine the accent she gave her" and while it is interesting to see that her work spanned both journalism and drama, I fail to see what insight speculation on Spain's accent in said play gives me as the reader. In contrast a few pages before there is admittedly an interesting note about the first non-stick frying pan being manufactured in 1954 although this might have been better included in the main text. I also agree with a number of other reviewers who found the book to be too focused on the more scandalous or gossipy elements of the women's lives rather than on how pioneering and forward thinking they were. Reading this I feel disappointed having expected more. Knowing the chapters would be short, I was hoping to read enough about each of the women to make me want to look for further reading, instead I ended up skimming the chapters and feeling that if these ten inspiring women are as brilliant and extraordinary as the title suggests, they have been let down in how their stories are being told.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Faye

    2.5 stars So this book wasn't too bad. But this was more of a broad overview and also there was no conclusion to this thing. It was just oh: here are 10 innovative women. THE END. At least this wasn't the longest book. 2.5 stars So this book wasn't too bad. But this was more of a broad overview and also there was no conclusion to this thing. It was just oh: here are 10 innovative women. THE END. At least this wasn't the longest book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Therese Wiese

    I was really interested in the topic, but I just couldn't get into it. I read some, skimmed the rest. My apologies to the author for only 2 stars. The introduction and appendix of "richly subversive novels" were the most interesting things I found. I was really interested in the topic, but I just couldn't get into it. I read some, skimmed the rest. My apologies to the author for only 2 stars. The introduction and appendix of "richly subversive novels" were the most interesting things I found.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emma Rund

    DNFing... the writing is terrible. SO dry. And there’s no reason for it to be dry

  8. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Fascinating and highly readable. The dynamic lives of 10 career women in the 1950s - architect, lawyer, writer, chef, gardener, etc. - and their impact on postwar British culture. This is the kind of book that sends you to the library with a list of other books - I have a list of nine, all but three of which were previously unknown to me, and I intend to go back over the bibliography before I return it to make sure there's nothing I've missed about the hidden history of women in the 1940s and 19 Fascinating and highly readable. The dynamic lives of 10 career women in the 1950s - architect, lawyer, writer, chef, gardener, etc. - and their impact on postwar British culture. This is the kind of book that sends you to the library with a list of other books - I have a list of nine, all but three of which were previously unknown to me, and I intend to go back over the bibliography before I return it to make sure there's nothing I've missed about the hidden history of women in the 1940s and 1950s (it's amazing how many distinguished female authors are little heard of today). Every one of their stories was captivating and absorbing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tara Chevrestt

    The book title is rather self-explanatory. You know what this one is about. Ten women with brilliant careers in the fifties. As usual with a biography, half of it bored me; and half of it was intriguing. No offense to anyone, but a woman who wrote a cookbook doesn't interest me much; neither does a gardener. But some of the women featured in this book really did interest me and made for good reading: Sheila van Damm: race-car driver and nightclub manager. What interested me about her is that she f The book title is rather self-explanatory. You know what this one is about. Ten women with brilliant careers in the fifties. As usual with a biography, half of it bored me; and half of it was intriguing. No offense to anyone, but a woman who wrote a cookbook doesn't interest me much; neither does a gardener. But some of the women featured in this book really did interest me and made for good reading: Sheila van Damm: race-car driver and nightclub manager. What interested me about her is that she felt great fear before racing. Racing in the fifties was not as "safe" as it is today. The book points this out with hard facts about deaths, not only of drivers but of bystanders being decapitated by flying debris and death from car fires. It was a serious and deadly business and though she was afraid, van Damm kept driving, even entering the most dangerous race in the world. And even better, she was known for finishing every one, no matter her placing. She was also a pilot. When her dad said he wanted to start a charter company and told her to "Go and learn to fly," she did just that. Though it was a failed business, again, this woman faced her fears. She even joined the Volunteer RAF Reserve. Before rally races, she worked as a driver in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Her side business, her dad's business that she later took over, was running a club called The Windmill. The bits about the club itself really hooked me, even when they weren't related to van Damm herself. Such as the fact they could have nude girls, provided they didn't move, so that women were nude but stood frozen for 12 minutes--except during a particular bad bombing in the Blitz, when one nude girl wearing nothing but a hat broke the rule by thumbing her nose at the planes above. Also of interest to me are the lady film directors. Muriel Box, according to this book, was a feminist and if you watch her movies and are savvy enough, you'll detect a feminist message/undertone in the films. Matter of fact, I'm going to watch one of the movies directed by her this week--the only one I could find here in the States available to me, The Truth About Women. Here is another example of a woman who refuses to give up. While critics were sneering about her last movie, she was hard at work on the next one. It was not a welcoming industry to women in those days--is it now either? I know Hollywood is def male-dominated... An interesting bit in the book tells about how the film industry came to her, which is very cool because she'd always wanted to work with movies, and one day she meets the right person on a train... I also liked reading about how this woman just walked out of her family home with nothing but a bag, and made good for herself. She later started her own feminist publishing company, Femina. This "chapter" also introduces us to Betty Box, Muriel's SIL and a movie producer. TBH, I lost interest in the women themselves as I read this and began looking up all their movies as I'm an old-movie buff. I'm sad to say I can't find some of them available for viewing. Namely, Both Sides of the Law AKA Street Corner. Someone, please, make this movie available on streaming or even TCM. Moving on, another woman I enjoyed reading about is England's first woman judge, Rose Heilbron. Here is a strong woman who maintained her femininity while rising from lawyer to judge. After her mother's death long before, she put her own dreams on hold to help her family. Something particularly touching she did was to rent a wig and gown and appear at her deceasing mother's bedside, as she knew her mother would not live long enough to actually see her daughter succeed. Her chapter starts with the relating of an interesting case about a burned houseboat. She had one daughter and after the difficult birth, was back in court in just 6 weeks, and this after nearly dying. Full review: http://wwwbookbabe.blogspot.com/2014/...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    I found this book difficult to get into; the author's style immediately gives away how personally attached she is to her subject matter, and some of her enthusiasm and effusiveness was jarring. However, once I hunkered down, I could understand her fascination. Most of the women she wrote about did lead fascinating careers and were, if not all revolutionary, definitely trailblazers. It shows how quickly things turn that while we are immersed in an almost survivalist "back to nature" phase in cooki I found this book difficult to get into; the author's style immediately gives away how personally attached she is to her subject matter, and some of her enthusiasm and effusiveness was jarring. However, once I hunkered down, I could understand her fascination. Most of the women she wrote about did lead fascinating careers and were, if not all revolutionary, definitely trailblazers. It shows how quickly things turn that while we are immersed in an almost survivalist "back to nature" phase in cooking and home decor, people aren't talking about the contributions of Patience Gray, who literally lived what she preached about the snout-to-tail philosophy from the 1960s onward. It's equally surprising that as we "look forward" to the post-apocalyptic world (of climate change) we don't reflect more on what architect Alison Smithson had to say about her period's visions of what the world would look like after The Bomb. The more things change... It is, perhaps, less surprising that we don't reflect on the genius that Muriel and Betty Box brought to the silver screen, in large part because the work they produced wasn't genius- just very successful at a time when women were not expected to know how to shape anything other than "women's" stories for women. And while there were representatives from "women's" fields here (Nancy Spain, the journalist who was assigned the women's page; Margery Fish, the garden writer; and Gray), the stories I found most engrossing were of Jacquetta Hawkes, the archaeologist and Rose Heilbron, the barrister and later judge. Honestly, I dreaded going into those chapters, but rather than being dry they painted a picture not only of the women who forged ahead in spite of opposition but also the fascinating times and societies they traveled in. (Heilbron's story was my favorite; it made me smile to think of a prim, educated woman calmly putting some of the organized crime members she defended firmly in their place.) Some of my enjoyment might also stem from the fact that Cooke's style is more serious and calmer in these chapters; I got the sense throughout that she was mimicking the writing style of each of her subjects. It's a worthy read for anyone interested in the history of Feminism and British History. However, twenty years after reading Susan Faludi's Backlash, I have to say that it's depressing that it would be such a surprise that women in the Fifties worked outside the home as much as they did or that they enjoyed the measure of success and influence that they did, prejudiced laws notwithstanding. Hopefully this will be a good reminder that the reason the Fifties media pushed the idea of the ideal housewife so hard was because women like this were putting the lie to it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke is a highly recommended collection of seven essays that cover the lives and accomplishments of ten widely diverse women and their careers in the 1950's in the UK. Many of these women were the first in their careers, to make a mark. Cooke observes that, “One of the great upsides of being the first was that guilt, as it pertained to working women, had not yet been invented.” The women presented in Her Brilliant Career incl Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke is a highly recommended collection of seven essays that cover the lives and accomplishments of ten widely diverse women and their careers in the 1950's in the UK. Many of these women were the first in their careers, to make a mark. Cooke observes that, “One of the great upsides of being the first was that guilt, as it pertained to working women, had not yet been invented.” The women presented in Her Brilliant Career include a diverse group: Patience Gray, cookbook writer; Nancy Spain, writer and personality; Joan Werner Laurie, magazine editor; Sheila van Damm, rally-car driver and theatre manager; Alison Smithson, architect; Margery Fish, gardener; Muriel Box, director, and Betty Box, producer; Jacquetta Hawkes, archaeologist; and Rose Heilbron, QC., the first woman to sit at the Old Bailey. Her Brilliant Career also includes a Select Bibliography, Acknowledgements, and an Index. In the introduction, Cooke points out "I prefer the idea of role models, inspirational figures who make you want to cheer. The extraordinary, mould-breaking women you will find in the pages that follow weren’t perfect. They were, like all human beings, flawed. They doubted themselves, they got in muddles, they made mistakes; feeling defensive, they sometimes seemed difficult and distant even to those who loved them. They certainly did not – dread phrase – ‘have it all’, or not all of the time, at any rate. Their children sometimes had a hard time of it. But they loved what they did and they got on with doing it as best they could in far less equal times than our own. If that isn’t encouraging – a kind of rallying call to the twenty-first-century battle-weary – I don’t know what is." Isn't that the truth? All the women lived in the post WWII UK, but readers not in the UK, should should still find inspiration from these ten women and what their accomplishments meant for the women of today. All the essays can be read as stand alone pieces, but as Cooke writes, "But if you read all seven of them there will, I hope, be a cumulative effect, the culture of the Fifties – its food, its architecture, its popular culture, its habits and its opinions – revealed through the lives of ten revolutionaries and taste makers who just happen to have been women. I hope these stories make people reconsider the ‘lost’ decade between the end of the war and feminism. I hope, too, that they speak to readers everywhere, whichever city or continent they happen to be reading in." Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    An interesting one to start the year. The subtitle to this is "Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties", and I bought it at a talk by the author late last year. It's UK focused, so the names may not mean much to a number of you, but she's written a book drawing together the lives of 10 women, some of whom knew each other, some didn't, to show how women's lives didn't always match the domestic stereotype we now have of the period. She's tried to also use the novelty of their private lives as one An interesting one to start the year. The subtitle to this is "Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties", and I bought it at a talk by the author late last year. It's UK focused, so the names may not mean much to a number of you, but she's written a book drawing together the lives of 10 women, some of whom knew each other, some didn't, to show how women's lives didn't always match the domestic stereotype we now have of the period. She's tried to also use the novelty of their private lives as one of her selection criteria, which can make the book seem rather gossipy at times, but there was a lot of interesting information, and I'm going to go back through the bibliography and add quite a few to my reading list. The women are: Patience Gray - the first best-selling food writer to introduce foreign cooking to a post-war rationing Britain. Nancy Spain - a writer, editor and personality. Joan Werner Laurie - editor of SHE magazine. Sheila Van Damm - racing driver and theatre manager (she took over the management of the Windmill Theatre from her father - for more on the theatre, the wartime story was filmed a few years ago as Mrs Henderson Presents, with Judi Dench, and I now have a film on my TBR list as a result of this book!). Nancy, Joan and Sheila lived in a fairly unconventional shared household. Alison Smithson - architect, best known for designing a modern school right at the start of her career in Norfolk. She was one of only 2 women in this that I'd heard of at the start, and I even visited the Hunstanton school a few years back with work. Margery Fish - wrote a best-selling book about gardening, and created a beautiful and well-visited garden in the 50s, after the death of her husband. Muriel Box - film director Betty Box - film producer (and sister-in-law of Muriel) nicknamed Betty Box Office for Doctor in the House. Muriel tended to less commercial work, although did get an Oscar for The Seventh Veil. Jacquetta Hawkes - the other one I'd heard of, and the main reason I went along to the talk in the first place. She was an early female academic archaeologist, and I have one of her books somewhere on my shelves, with a newspaper clipping for her obituary tucked inside it, but all I could remember about her was that her second marriage was to JB Priestly (the playwright and author). I wanted to know more about her, rather than her in relation to her husband. Ruth Heilbron - the first female QC and the one I ended up liking the most. I definitely want to know more about her and will be seeking out the biography her daughter wrote in 2012.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    The first time I saw this book I was attracted by the title and cover, but decided to skip it because I wasn't familiar with the women it's about. Then I came across it again and realized that was a good reason to read it, not to skip it. The idea behind the book is to reveal the 1950s through portraits of ten successful career women of the decade. In this case, they are all British, but the prejudices and the lack of prejudices about women in the workplace were similar in the United States at t The first time I saw this book I was attracted by the title and cover, but decided to skip it because I wasn't familiar with the women it's about. Then I came across it again and realized that was a good reason to read it, not to skip it. The idea behind the book is to reveal the 1950s through portraits of ten successful career women of the decade. In this case, they are all British, but the prejudices and the lack of prejudices about women in the workplace were similar in the United States at the time. Rachel Cooke has chosen a wide variety of women to profile, and she makes it clear that it was quite a project just to winnow the list down to a manageable ten. The women include an architect, a gardening expert, several writers, a trial lawyer who later became a judge, a movie director and a film producer, a race car driver, and more. A few of the women pursued multiple nontraditional careers. Some were married, others stayed single, some had same sex partners, others had both. They came from wealthy backgrounds and working class families. I tried as I was reading to find a common thread that explained how these women had broken the mold, but couldn't. At times the gossipy nature of the biographies seemed wrong -- there were many affairs and abandoned children -- but it would be artificial and incomplete to leave out how they did or didn't have successful home lives along with their unusual careers. I had an image of the 1950s as a black and white decade that fades into insignificance when compared with the war-torn 40s and the psychedelic 60s. Her Brilliant Career took care of that silly notion.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    The title grabbed me, so I grabbed the book. Rachel Cooke's writing reads partly like a novel (the plot unfolding), partly like a biography (lining up the critical events in each woman's life), and always with references alluding to her substantial research. My knowledge of Britain's women in the 1950s was scant prior to reading Her Brilliant Career, and now I feel intimately connected not only with the lives of these ten individuals, but also of the culture surrounding each of them. I found it The title grabbed me, so I grabbed the book. Rachel Cooke's writing reads partly like a novel (the plot unfolding), partly like a biography (lining up the critical events in each woman's life), and always with references alluding to her substantial research. My knowledge of Britain's women in the 1950s was scant prior to reading Her Brilliant Career, and now I feel intimately connected not only with the lives of these ten individuals, but also of the culture surrounding each of them. I found it interesting how their culture/society received their careers and their insistent presence in the public working sphere. Some of these women were mothers, negotiating a work/home life (albeit some more successful in this than others). Some had glamorous lives in the spotlight; some struggled; some enjoyed support from their spouses or partners in their careers while others were in combat. I welcomed a change from my normal genre and was happy to have alighted upon Her Brilliant Career, Cooke's first book. I look forward to reading more by this erudite writer.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ingeborg

    Very good and interesting account of women's lives in the 50's. Not just any women, but those who knew what they wanted from their lives and acted accordingly. The book is well written, and most of all I like the details about these women. Some of them are completely fascinating, as is this one: When they first bought the country house, the pantry window was frosted so no one could see the maid washing up. ‘It never occurred to us, the architect or the builder how dull it was for the poor girl to Very good and interesting account of women's lives in the 50's. Not just any women, but those who knew what they wanted from their lives and acted accordingly. The book is well written, and most of all I like the details about these women. Some of them are completely fascinating, as is this one: When they first bought the country house, the pantry window was frosted so no one could see the maid washing up. ‘It never occurred to us, the architect or the builder how dull it was for the poor girl to be shut off like that. When the war came and I spent hours at the sink, I adopted my sister’s suggestion and had clear glass put in that window.’ Thank you Rachel Cooke. For bringing up the issue that is often dismissed as unimportant and trivial - the issue of female everyday lives and their biographies. I am sure these facinating women would also be thankful!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marathon County Public Library

    A fascinating look at the role of women in the 1950s, this book shows us that there were definitely exceptions to the stereotypical housewife we've been shown. This book gives mini biographies of some of the extraordinary women who forged careers in a man's world and paved the way for the opportunities that women enjoy today. From race car drivers to writers to architects, we are given an in depth look at the careers and private lives of these pioneers. If you are interested in women's history, A fascinating look at the role of women in the 1950s, this book shows us that there were definitely exceptions to the stereotypical housewife we've been shown. This book gives mini biographies of some of the extraordinary women who forged careers in a man's world and paved the way for the opportunities that women enjoy today. From race car drivers to writers to architects, we are given an in depth look at the careers and private lives of these pioneers. If you are interested in women's history, this is the book for you. Bettina P. / Marathon County Public Library Find this book in our library catalog.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Maqsood

    The book is incredibly well-researched and the amount of information contained is hard to conceive passing through one person's mind. Overall, it was an inspiring read and an important reminder of much of what women have endured in the struggle for equal rights. That said, I found it largely inaccessible without being an expert in the diverse fields in which the women mentioned in the book are experts. Not being British probably didn't help the accessibility either. There was a lot of name dropp The book is incredibly well-researched and the amount of information contained is hard to conceive passing through one person's mind. Overall, it was an inspiring read and an important reminder of much of what women have endured in the struggle for equal rights. That said, I found it largely inaccessible without being an expert in the diverse fields in which the women mentioned in the book are experts. Not being British probably didn't help the accessibility either. There was a lot of name dropping of people I have never heard of without necessary explanation for it to be meaningful to me. Perhaps this review is more of a reflection of my lack of background knowledge than it is of the book itself.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nann

    The premise is intriguing: lesser-known Englishwomen of the 1950's who had interesting careers -- a cookbook author, the first female judge in Britain, a gardener, sisters-in-law who were a film director and a film producer. The introduction places the biographical sketches into context, but there is no cross-cultural comparison (what women were doing in the U.S. or Canada, or in Europe). The appendix about fashion of the 50's was just added-on. The list of "some good and richly subversive novel The premise is intriguing: lesser-known Englishwomen of the 1950's who had interesting careers -- a cookbook author, the first female judge in Britain, a gardener, sisters-in-law who were a film director and a film producer. The introduction places the biographical sketches into context, but there is no cross-cultural comparison (what women were doing in the U.S. or Canada, or in Europe). The appendix about fashion of the 50's was just added-on. The list of "some good and richly subversive novels by women" was interesting but there was no direct connection to the featured women. [I now want to read Patience Gray's cookbook and Margery Fish's garden book.]

  19. 4 out of 5

    Schmidleysscribblins.wordpress.com

    Excellent in parts and a drag in others, this collection of biographical sketches of English women pioneers who persevered through the middle of the twentieth century in careers thought to belong to men accomplishes its goal. I best enjoyed the essay on Rose Heilbronn QC. Surely she is the model of the character in the BBC series 'Silk' or perhaps Portia in the Rumpole series? I bought the hardcover for my granddaughter, and Kindle and Audio versions for me. Audio version narrated by Jenny Funne Excellent in parts and a drag in others, this collection of biographical sketches of English women pioneers who persevered through the middle of the twentieth century in careers thought to belong to men accomplishes its goal. I best enjoyed the essay on Rose Heilbronn QC. Surely she is the model of the character in the BBC series 'Silk' or perhaps Portia in the Rumpole series? I bought the hardcover for my granddaughter, and Kindle and Audio versions for me. Audio version narrated by Jenny Funnel (As Time Goes By).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bettina Peters

    A fascinating look at the role of women in the 1950s, this book shows us that there were definitely exceptions to the stereotypical housewife we've been shown. This book gives mini biographies of some of the extraordinary women who forged careers in a man's world and paved the way for the opportunities that women enjoy today. From race car drivers to writers to architects, we are given an in depth look at the careers and private lives of these pioneers. If you are interested in women's history, A fascinating look at the role of women in the 1950s, this book shows us that there were definitely exceptions to the stereotypical housewife we've been shown. This book gives mini biographies of some of the extraordinary women who forged careers in a man's world and paved the way for the opportunities that women enjoy today. From race car drivers to writers to architects, we are given an in depth look at the careers and private lives of these pioneers. If you are interested in women's history, this is the book for you.

  21. 4 out of 5

    bethany planton

    Her Brilliant Career is quite dense. Rachel Cooke did not leave any stone unturned when presenting the stories of ten British women in the 1950s. The 50's are not just what is portrayed in sitcoms and movies. These women did a lot for the rights and careers for women in numerous fields. I had some trouble keeping up with all the information especially since it is about British women. I have very little frame of reference to places in England. Her Brilliant Career is quite dense. Rachel Cooke did not leave any stone unturned when presenting the stories of ten British women in the 1950s. The 50's are not just what is portrayed in sitcoms and movies. These women did a lot for the rights and careers for women in numerous fields. I had some trouble keeping up with all the information especially since it is about British women. I have very little frame of reference to places in England.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Deirdre

    Interesting but a bit gossipy. I have no idea what the criteria was for choosing the 10 women, three of them were in a menaage too so it's a bit of a stretch because their lives were quite interwoven, and two others share a chapter too. Instead of it being about 10 women it's more about 7 women whose lives also intersected with others that are integral parts of their lives. While interesting I wanted more. Interesting but a bit gossipy. I have no idea what the criteria was for choosing the 10 women, three of them were in a menaage too so it's a bit of a stretch because their lives were quite interwoven, and two others share a chapter too. Instead of it being about 10 women it's more about 7 women whose lives also intersected with others that are integral parts of their lives. While interesting I wanted more.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Verity W

    I really, really enjoyed this. The women featured are fascinating - if not always tremendously likeable - and the essay format made the book incredibly readable and easy to keep track of where you are. I've come away with a reading list of 50s novels to read and some films to look out for too. I'm looking forward to seeing what Rachel Cooke writes next. I really, really enjoyed this. The women featured are fascinating - if not always tremendously likeable - and the essay format made the book incredibly readable and easy to keep track of where you are. I've come away with a reading list of 50s novels to read and some films to look out for too. I'm looking forward to seeing what Rachel Cooke writes next.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jude

    I wanted to love this book more than I did. For me, a lot of the chapters felt a little on the long side with a lot of information that wasn't necessarily relevant. Having said that, I couldn't help but feel that Cooke fell in love with each of the women as she learnt more about them and it is crammed full of interesting facts and stories about very interesting women. I wanted to love this book more than I did. For me, a lot of the chapters felt a little on the long side with a lot of information that wasn't necessarily relevant. Having said that, I couldn't help but feel that Cooke fell in love with each of the women as she learnt more about them and it is crammed full of interesting facts and stories about very interesting women.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Betty Adams

    This is a must for any and all feminists and/or anyone interested in the fifties. Each chapter somewhat debunks my belief that women were repressed after World War II. Each of the women profiled led a fascinating and productive life - all were in the UK, but I am re-thinking life for women in the US - sorry Betty Friedan. I highly recommend!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    This book has an interesting premise, which is to explore the lives of exceptional women who didn't conform to the inaccurate stereotype of how women lived in the 1950s. Unfortunately, I wasn't as drawn into it as I might have been, largely because the women they explored were all British and I didn't have the same cultural reference points as the author. I'd love to read a U.S. version. This book has an interesting premise, which is to explore the lives of exceptional women who didn't conform to the inaccurate stereotype of how women lived in the 1950s. Unfortunately, I wasn't as drawn into it as I might have been, largely because the women they explored were all British and I didn't have the same cultural reference points as the author. I'd love to read a U.S. version.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Harkness

    The only reason I didn't mark this higher is that I wanted more of it: more brilliant women, and more about the ones who were included. There is so much fascinating material here, slightly disappointed that Ms Cooke didn't make more of it. But very well-written The only reason I didn't mark this higher is that I wanted more of it: more brilliant women, and more about the ones who were included. There is so much fascinating material here, slightly disappointed that Ms Cooke didn't make more of it. But very well-written

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I didn't recognise many of the people who were mentioned in the footnotes of this book and sometimes this meant that some of the significance was lost on me. However I enjoyed the authors style of writing and could get a feel of the era and strength of character that these women had. I didn't recognise many of the people who were mentioned in the footnotes of this book and sometimes this meant that some of the significance was lost on me. However I enjoyed the authors style of writing and could get a feel of the era and strength of character that these women had.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Micebyliz

    excellent. author is not an apologist. (i can't stand them lol) it's not one of those "in her own right" books which make me want to scream ( i'm being polite here) It's a straightforward and fairly blunt account of these women and i absorbed like fresh air. excellent. author is not an apologist. (i can't stand them lol) it's not one of those "in her own right" books which make me want to scream ( i'm being polite here) It's a straightforward and fairly blunt account of these women and i absorbed like fresh air.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Loved the concept. Mini-bios to provide both a look at the individual women and the collective culture and times of upper middle class in the fifties. Most of the book I found very engaging. One, maybe two bios were less so, I consider reading it as time well spent.

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