Figuring by Maria Popova [8/10]

Deep reading and deep reflection, leading to lyrical musing, that’s what we’ve grown to love in Maria Popova’s wonderful Brain Pickings blog. Her first book, “Figuring,” transcends the blog, with a staggering sashay through the lives and achievements of a range of geniuses such as astronomers Maria Mitchell and Caroline Herschel, mathematician Mary Somerville, writer/critic Margaret Fuller, artist Harriet Hosmer, and poet Emily Dickinson. Popova is not afraid to meander off course, nor to wax hyper lyrical, but somehow she still wrests a reasonably cohesive narrative out of a huge number of sources. A patient reader is required; sometimes the hyperbole fails, though I loved it when it succeeded, such as with this ardent sentence: “It is a life’s work to reconcile ourselves to the fact that none of the things we gain by force of effort—admiration, awards, wealth, chiseled abs—ever make up for the unbidden gifts we are given and inevitably lose.” Popova’s final hero is the one I championed most during reading, the luminescent marine biologist/environmentalist Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” the book that kicked off environmentalism. I revelled in her life, her philosophy recreated, and Popova’s paean. Brilliant, brightly brilliant.

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