An intricate tapestry in which the lives of these women, and dozens of other scientific and literary figures, are woven together through threads of connection across four centuries, linking one to another in unexpected chains through mutual friends, serendipity, meetings, letters and even lovers. It is as if in her vast reading of source materials, especially original correspondence, she has fitted her brain with a set of filters to sift out references that might link any of her figures to any other. One is reminded of the 18th-century polymath Athanasius Kircher’s declaration: 'The world is bound by secret knots' ... In Figuring, we are thrust into a waltz of exquisitely honed minds—most of them belonging to women, many of them sexually queer — all insisting on living to their fullest.
... strange and lovely ... Generally [the book] proceeds through a series of surprising links, fascinating diversions and sometimes dizzying associative drift. When the connections cohere, it’s like carefully constructed fiction ... Sometimes the crisscrossing of lives, loves and ideas is confusing but still true to life in its mess and its drama. Other connections point away from the story at hand but create a sense of immersion in the world in which these brilliant people wandered ... At times, though, the detours are distracting ... There is beautiful writing in Figuring, inspired by Popova’s obvious love for words. But sometimes it obscures her meaning ... Popova’s words do enough by themselves.
Note the absence of a subtitle. This book is not for those who need to know in advance what a book is about. The readers who will love this book — count me among them — delight in walking on paths that branch without a defined destination. They are not perturbed by offshoots that others might call digressions but instead feel themselves to be held in trustworthy hands that will not leave them stranded ... The lives, the seeds, the principles are what inform this unusual and original book ... Figuring is an inspiriting book. Popova stands on the side of a truth that cannot be found in conventional linear narratives ... Figuring is entirely a creative act. We are not left stranded ...The many lines of Figuring gather together not in resolution but in lyricism.