Books, Feminism, Gender, Reviews

A Wonderful History: Sam Maggs’ “Wonder Women” is a Must-Read

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History

"Wonder Women," Quirk Books. Written by Sam Maggs, illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino

“Wonder Women,” Quirk Books. Written by Sam Maggs, illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino

Written by Sam Maggs, Illustrated by Sophia Foster-Dimino
Quirk Books
October 4, 2016

Writing a book about the incredible women history is a daunting task. There’s the lack and legitimacy of sources, the legends, and the biases. There’s also the need for fresh narratives – discussions of historical women are found all over Tumblr, and often the same women get highlighted – and the difficulty of walking that fine line between biography and boredom to create something unique and interesting. Nevertheless, Sam Maggs and Sophie Foster-Dimino have done just that. Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers Who Changed History is an informative yet enjoyable collection of biographies about historical female trailblazers as well as the kind of intersectional feminist history book that everyone needs to read.

No matter your interest(s) –  science, medicine, espionage, innovation, or adventure – Wonder Women has a new female heroine for you to meet (my new favorite is Civil War spy Sarah Edmonds). Each chapter includes concise biographies on five female pioneers, as well as shorter profiles of seven other historical women. A Q&A with a contemporary wonder woman in that chapter’s particular field brings the reader back to the present. It’s a smart move: there’s no way that Maggs could fit bios on all the female trailblazers that history has forgotten into one book and she doesn’t try to. Instead she writes the profiles as introductions and jumping-off points for any reader interested in learning more. Curious readers can consult the nine-page bibliography at the end of the book (a testament to Maggs’ research) for more information on any favorites and a handy index helps readers find specific heroines.

Sophie Foster-Dimino's illustration of Ada Lovelace (above) vs. A.E. Chalon's portrait of Lovelace (below)

Sophie Foster-Dimino’s illustration of Ada Lovelace (top) vs. A.E. Chalon’s popular portrait of Lovelace (bottom)

Maggs also distinguishes Wonder Women from other historical books by including conversations with contemporary pioneers. Aside from providing young readers with up-to-date insight on what it’s like to work in different fields, these women are also part of  Wonder Women‘s overarching narrative, that of feminists fighting for diversity and inclusion. They include Erica Baker, senior engineer at Slack Technologies, Inc. and diversity advocate, and Dr. Lynn Conway, a professor and pioneer in microelectronics and an activist for transgender women in STEM careers, among others. Both Baker and Conway are also excellent examples of Maggs’ conscious push for intersectional feminism in Wonder Women (Baker is black and Conway is a transgender woman). Maggs has clearly dedicated a lot of effort into the inclusion of queer women and women of color in Wonder Women although there could have been more trans women as well as women who are disabled.

With all the information between its covers Wonder Women could have easily been dry and daunting. Maggs’ witty tone and Sophie Foster-Dimino’s illustrations, however, make for easy and enjoyable reading. While Maggs’ pop culture references might grow stale, Foster-Dimino’s illustrations will stand the test of time. Like Maggs, Foster-Dimino has clearly invested time and care into her work on Wonder Women – her illustrations that accompany the first five bios of each chapter accurately reflect both the time period and the field that each woman worked in. In some cases, as with Ada Lovelace, Foster-Dimino is able to draw upon existing paintings or photographs of her subjects (see left). Others are more difficult: textile innovator Huang Dapao, for instance, lived approximately 1240 to 1330 and there are no surviving images of her left. In those cases Foster-Dimino draws upon her imagination to bring these female pioneers to life for the reader. The result are illustrations that are simple yet attractive and expressive, the perfect counterpoint to Maggs’ text.

Between Foster-Dimino’s wonderful illustrations and Maggs’ research and writing, Wonder Women becomes an excellent resource for students as well as an enjoyable and easy read for casual readers. Audiences of any age and gender will find much to love and learn in Wonder Women and libraries both public and private aren’t complete without it.