Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

History at O level was one of the few that I passed waaaaay back when I took my exams. Thankfully I didn’t have to learn about the narrow political and regal landscape, but the history we learnt was the social changes through the ages and how they affected the population at large.

Now I have thought about it though almost all the people that we found out about were men, they built bridges, invented steam engines, robbed the common people of the land that had been theirs and shaped the country as we know it today. Sometimes they did a good job, but often they didn’t. There was the odd woman in this history that we were taught, but not many and they were portrayed as secondary figures.

In this book, Newman wants to set the record straight and tell us about the amazing women who have defied the odds to change a little bit of history for the better. She has chosen a wide range of women to celebrate what they do and to ensure that they are put back into the history books. These are not just women who have made a difference in medicine and education, but those who have become political giants, who have been actively involved in wars and developing engineering solutions and designing buildings.

There are too many to mention in this review, but three that I particularly liked discovering were Jane Drew who had her own architectural practice that, to begin with, only employed women and was not afraid to give as good as she got.
There was also Elizabeth Anderson who wanted to become a doctor. In the 1890s this was not the done thing, women were considered too sensitive for the anatomy lessons all doctors had to take. She enrolled as a nursing student, and was still getting rejection letters from everywhere she applied. She fought back and went on to form the New Hospital for Women.
Beatrice Shilling, whose ingenious and yet so simple device for the Spitfires’ Rolls-Royce V12 Merlin engines that stopped them cutting out during dogfights, was essential for the pilots as they fought in the battle of Britain. Not only did she invent it, but she travelled all around the airfields brazing the component in position for the pilots.

I really liked this book. Newman rightly so is trying to put the record straight and show that notable achievements were not just a male thing. All the women in this book had to push back against the values of society at the time and make a difference in their field of expertise. Rather than children learning about the stuffy and frankly mostly boring Kings and Queens of our country, the women in this book should be given equal prominence to the men that have shaped our future as their role is equal in importance.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    It took a while to find it but I reviewed this for Shiny New Books when it first came out. I really liked it, although I did know of a fair few of the women already …

    • Paul

      Grear review Liz. I like the fact that each review that I have read has a particular favourite example of an inspiring women to that reader.

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