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.
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.
Her first book is...a highly original survey of life, love and creativity; an intellectual odyssey that challenges easy categorisation. It interweaves the 'invisible connections' between pioneering scientists, artists and writers—many of them gay women—to create a richly patterned tapestry of ideas and biographies ... Popova writes beautifully, translating abstractions into sensuous, evocative subjects, turning history and science into symphonic prose poetry ... At more than 500 pages, Figuring is perhaps overlong: but as Popova notes at the end, this is the distillation of a lifetime’s reading on science, the arts and biography ... To read Figuring is to be immersed in a gloriously ambitious symphony of ideas[.]