The genius of women From overlooked to changing the world

Janice Kaplan

Book - 2020

"We tell girls that they can be anything, so why do 90 percent of Americans believe that geniuses are almost always men? New York Times bestselling journalist Janice Kaplan explores the powerful forces that have rigged the system--and celebrates the women geniuses past and present who have triumphed anyway. Even in this time of rethinking women's roles, we define genius almost exclusively through male achievement. When asked to name a genius, people mention Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Steve Jobs. As for great women? In one survey, the only female genius anyone listed was Marie Curie. Janice Kaplan, the New York Times bestselling author of The Gratitude Diaries, set out to determine why the extraordinary work of so many... women has been brushed aside. Using her unique mix of memoir, narrative, and inspiration, she makes surprising discoveries about women geniuses now and throughout history, in fields from music to robotics. Through interviews with neuroscientists, psychologists, and dozens of women geniuses at work in the world today--including Nobel Prize winner Frances Arnold and AI expert Fei-Fei Li--she proves that genius isn't just about talent. It's about having that talent recognized, nurtured, and celebrated. Across the generations, even when they face less-than-perfect circumstances, women geniuses have created brilliant and original work. In The Genius of Women, you'll learn how they ignored obstacles and broke down seemingly unshakable barriers. The geniuses in this moving, powerful, and very entertaining book provide more than inspiration--they offer a clear blueprint to everyone who wants to find her own path and move forward with passion." --

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[New York] : Dutton [2020]
Main Author
Janice Kaplan (author)
Physical Description
xi, 334 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 311-323) and index.
  • Preface
  • Part 1. Genius Isn't What You Think
  • Chapter 1. Why You've Never Heard of Lise Meitner
  • Chapter 2. The Outrageous Bias Against Mozart's Sister
  • Chapter 3. Einstein's Wife and the Theory of Relativity
  • Chapter 4. How a Teenage Nun Painted The Last Supper
  • Chapter 5. Why Italian Women Are Better than You at Math
  • Chapter 6. Rosalind Franklin and the Truth About the Female Brain
  • Part 2. The Geniuses Among Us
  • Chapter 7. Why Fei-Fei Li Should Be on the Cover of Vanity Fair
  • Chapter 8. The Astrophysicist Who Does Not Need Tom Cruise
  • Chapter 9. Broadway's Tina Landau Contains Multitudes
  • Chapter 10. RBG and the Genius of Being a Cuddly Goat
  • Chapter 11. The Dark Lord Trying to Kill Off Women Scientists
  • Part 3. How Women Geniuses Fight... and Win
  • Chapter 12. Battling the Anel-Cinderella Complex
  • Chapter 13. Why Oprah Wanted to Be a Beauty Queen
  • Chapter 14. Geena Davis and the Problem of Being Nice
  • Chapter 15. Frances Arnold Knew She Was Right (and Then She Won the Nobel Prize)
  • Chapter 16. How to Succeed in Business by Wearing Elegant Scarves
  • Chapter 17. Why Sally Michel Was a Genius Painter and Mrs. Milton Avery Was Not
  • Chapter 18. The Game-Changing Power of Genius Women
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

In this deep dive on the universal failure to recognize female genius, Kaplan (The Gratitude Diaries, 2015) includes a little bit of everything: history, psychology, sociology, biology, neurology, humor, celebrity weigh-ins, denial, dismissal, stories of thwarted careers and diverted glory, and exhortations for readers to celebrate the women geniuses amongst us. This sounds like an awful lot, and it is, but Kaplan's writing style is engaging and full of relatable examples. Her tone ranges from strident to self-depreciating, and her observations are supported by facts, anecdotes, personal profiles, and interviews with women who certainly qualify as contemporary geniuses. Readers will be enlightened, stupified, and provoked in turn, as Kaplan repeatedly harpoons ingrained notions about genius being the exclusive domain of men. Her commentary goes far beyond intellectual matters, addressing such diverse issues as nouns with assigned genders (a bridge is masculine in Spanish, but feminine in German) and pseudoscience theories regarding interstellar origins of gender roles. A summary chapter pulls together common traits Kaplan observed in women of genius, past and present, and a final request for women and men to trust each other, work together, and fully appreciate each others' talent. Expect this well-reasoned account to generate a lot of interest and conversation.--Kathleen McBroom Copyright 2020 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Former Parade editor-in-chief Kaplan (The Gratitude Diaries) explores why the accomplishments of so many women have been overlooked and celebrates contemporary women excelling in a wide range of fields in this chatty yet well-researched history. Noting that men have historically determined who gets recognized for extraordinary accomplishments and who doesn't, Kaplan describes how genius women have been punished or ignored in the past: Hypatia, the first known female mathematician and philosopher, died at the hands of a Christian mob in fifth-century Alexandria; the neglected paintings of 17th-century Dutch artist Clara Peeters skyrocketed in value after a 2016 exhibition; physicist Lise Meitner played a pivotal role in the discovery of nuclear fission, only to see the 1944 Nobel Prize go solely to her male collaborator. Kaplan also profiles dozens of modern-day female overachievers, including biochemist Jennifer Doudna, Broadway director Tina Landau, and MIT robotics expert Cynthia Breazeal, and contends that successful, groundbreaking women share common traits, such as optimism, blindness toward bias, and the ability to multitask. Though Kaplan overloads her writing with superlatives ("amazingly brave"; "enormously talented") and occasionally drifts into gender stereotypes (actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is "a golden girl in private"), this upbeat work impresses with its broad range and inspirational message. (Feb.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Featuring interviews with many of the most innovative women in the world today, from academia and business to technology and the arts, this book cannot help but be inspiring. Physicist Carla Molteni, artificial intelligence expert Fei-Fei Li, and theater director Tina Landau are just a few of the "geniuses" that journalist Kaplan (The Gratitude Diaries) introduces in her quest to understand how intelligence and talent are nurtured and celebrated in women. Throughout, she seeks to identify the structures that affect women's opportunities and society's perceptions of them. All of the stories are a delight to read. The author's contributions are engaging, though the book sometimes fails to fully explore the intersections of race, culture, sexuality, and other identities that make it more difficult for some women to succeed than others. The group of women included in the book is diverse, but the author's analysis occasionally feels narrow and ignores the many layers of the subjects' lives and communities. VERDICT While an imperfect presentation, the book is an easy read and the extent of the author's research makes this book a worthwhile addition to the growing literature offering long overdue profiles of the world's most brilliant women.--Sarah Schroeder, Univ. of Washington Bothell

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The former editor-in-chief of Parade magazine pays tribute to women who have contributed indispensable work in a variety of fields.Near the beginning, Kaplan (The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life, 2015, etc.) asks a pertinent question: "In our current era of assumedly aroused consciousness to gender issues, why do both men and women still assume that men's contributions to society are the ones that really count?" The author does readers a service by spotlighting the achievements of many remarkable women. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn had sisters with equal or better talent, but while Fanny Mendelssohn was able to publish her work, Maria Anna Mozart achieved little recognition. In the sciences, the sins are more egregious. Female lab assistants have often conducted breakthrough research only to earn prizes for their professors or to discover the basis of world-changing science that enables another prizewinner. As she searches for characteristics of genius, the author lists a number of requirements. The first is to have acknowledgment, support, and encouragement from a parent or mentor. Being naturally smart (whatever that means) isn't at the top of the list; tenacity and determination come before innate intelligence. How many women are out there who never understood their full capabilities because no one ever mentioned it? From science, technology, and math to literature, art, and psychology, Kaplan presents a diverse cast, including those geniuses still at worke.g., Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Donna Strickland, who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics. Who is considered a genius depends on who sets the rules; throughout history, that has been men. Refreshingly, as the author points out, there are now countless groundbreaking women paving the way for future generations, who will see power differently and demand to be taken seriously. "Once we expect to see women's genius on display," she writes, "the lack of it seems wrong and inexplicable."Kaplan's coverage of this broad-reaching topic is as deep and diverse as women's abilities. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.