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.
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.