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.
Time and again [Popova's] nimble mind and deep intellectual curiosity make those connections plausible and compelling ... In describing the often frustrating courses of their personal—and especially romantic—lives, Popova exposes the tension between mundane human existence and the unrelenting demands of great science and art ... Popova’s own mellifluous prose enhances her discussion of even the most arcane topics. She draws extensive quotations from primary sources, allowing her subjects to speak at length in their often eloquent, always fascinating voices. Figuring invites the reader to engage with complex ideas and challenging personalities, unearthing a wealth of material for further reflection along the way.
Exhilarating and omnivorous ... [a] passionate and erudite pursuit of truth and beauty ... Popova presents uniquely discerning and strikingly candid interpretations of her subjects’ writings, private and published, and profiles their family, lovers, and peers ... Writing with an ardor for language and musing on chance, affinity, and our fear of change, Popova constructs an intricate biographical cosmos that is intellectually scintillating, artistically wondrous, and deeply affecting.