Book Recommendation

The Best Book I Read This Month: Inferior by Angela Saini

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The best book I read this month was one that got me all riled up. Angela Saini’s Inferior is basically about how science has done women wrong.

For years, I’ve heard stories about how medical science has treated women badly, from doctors who dismiss women’s pain as hysterical to FDA studies that only tested medications on men to the lack of research funding for women’s cancers. I expected to find all of that in this book. I was wrong on that count. Saini addresses some of the above, but her discussion of women’s treatment in medicine forms only a very small part of the book.

Saini explores not only how medical science has dismissed, ignored, and mistreated women, but also how scientists across disciplines—neurology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, to name a few—aren’t quite sure how to account for women in their research. A number of scientists (mostly men, it seems from Saini’s examples) are hell-bent on finding genetic or biological differences between the sexes. Other scientists (mostly women, judging by Saini’s examples) insist that differences do not exist and that any difference between the sexes is cultural or environmental.

Saini convincingly illustrates the extent to which bias has influenced the methodology and conclusions drawn by researchers into sex differences and women’s roles and the extent to which these researchers have been dismissive of cultural and environmental influences—both on themselves and on their subjects.

As a woman, I am frustrated and upset by Saini’s examples, but as a reader, I am grateful that she makes the science so accessible. Her writing is not drowning in jargon, and when she does use scientific terminology, she explains it in terms that any non-scientist could understand. The book is short (about 185 pages without the endnotes and bibliography) and easy to read but packed with information. It was definitely a good reading choice for Women’s History Month.

Women's History Month: My Favorite (So Far) Women's History Books

March is Women’s History Month. I would love to spend the month posting biographies of my favorite historical women, but alas that will have to wait for a year when I’m not drowning in work. For now, though, here are my favorite history books about women (so far).

By next year, I hope to have even more to add to this list! If you have any recommendations of your own, please share them in Comments. I’m always looking for a good historical read.

The Best Book I Read This Month: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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The best book I read this month was a fantastic read that swept me away. Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale is lush, lyrical, and Romantic. Not hearts-and-flowers romantic, but Beethoven Romantic. Lord Byron Romantic. Mary Shelley Romantic. Full of emotion and passion and nature and imagination.

Set in the early years of Tsarist Russia (roughly the 1300s), The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of Vasya, the daughter of a Russian nobleman, in a village on the edge of the wilderness. Vasya is a wild child, headstrong and independent, but devoted to her family and her village. She inherits her mother’s gift—a connection to the spirits that inhabit the land and the home. (Russian folklore says that every house is protected by a hearth spirit called a domovoi.)

Vasya’s personality and gift bring her into conflict with her stepmother, the village priest, and eventually the whole village. She becomes caught up in a struggle between supernatural forces, and it is in this struggle that she encounters the bear and the nightingale.

Arden’s narrative reads very much like a fairy tale, which is fitting because the story she tells is very much of that genre, but it’s not the simplistic fairy tales spun by Disney and company. This tale harkens back to the original Grimm’s tales—dark and earthy and violent.

Vasya’s story continues over two more books, but I don’t know if I’m going to read them. This story felt very full and complete and satisfying, just as it is. The idea of reading more feels like ordering a second dinner while being completely stuffed from the first one.

The Best Book I Read This Month: The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

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The best book I read this month was a historical mystery, my favorite genre. The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry is set in Edinburgh in 1847, and it’s as much about the history of medicine as it is about murder. The story centers around the household of Dr. James Simpson, who popularized the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic; the mystery around the deaths of a prostitute and a housemaid. The “detectives” are Simpson’s apprentice, Will Raven, and housemaid, Sarah Fisher.

I loved many things about this book, but the giddiest thrill came from recognizing so many of the street names and locations from my visit to Edinburgh this past fall. Knowing I’d walked along some of the same streets as the characters gave special life to the setting and the story. (And speaks of a city that preserves its past instead of destroying it.)

The writing, too, was pitch perfect—the language reflective of the mid-19th century setting of the story, not just in the dialogue but in the descriptions, as well. The characters—Raven and Sarah, in particular—are complex and not caricatures. If this becomes a series, I look forward to seeing how their partnership develops.

The plotting and mystery were also well done. This was not a typical serial killer mystery, and I liked that the murders were not so straightforward. I also found the killer’s comeuppance especially creative. (The foreshadowing for what happens to the killer is very subtly done, but it works.)

My hope is that this becomes the first in a series, because Parry—in reality, a husband and wife team—has the goods when it comes to writing engaging mysteries and I wouldn’t mind spending more time hanging out in the Simpson household.