Miles’s tone swings all this speed-herstory along, with a giant helping of feminist theory. On the book goes, finding daring women of all kinds. Miles takes on not just the patriarchy but the phallusy as well ... She introduces us to explorers, pilots, warriors, spies, writers, queens, traitors, courtesans, athletes and politicians we’ve not heard of before. And some we have. Alongside their brief biographies are frequent asides about the lack of recognition these ladies endured, or something about how if men had to menstruate it would become a sacred act. In other words, Miles is pissed off ... Woven throughout The Women’s History of the Modern World are little pauses — almost like cul de sacs — in which Miles (who is married and has grown children) hints that conventional women’s lives centered on a husband and family are not always the most satisfying or enriching ... Miles skips many damning stories of women who were the true stars behind their men, but then that could fill volumes.
The Women’s History of the Modern World revolves around certain women heroes, ‘every one in search of an identity, a new life, and a means to throw off the chains of the past ... The text of The Women’s History of the Modern World has many such entertaining snippets of pasts unfortunately forgotten. Including gains made by women, even when temporary, would have helped to better make the author’s points, however, as would have women as something other than always victims ... Broad claims in The Women’s History of the Modern World of the unfairness of the treatment of women, however true, do not find general proof in the experience of specific individuals ... Important points on women’s history in Western Europe appear in this work in various places, with individual examples.
Novelist and historian Miles spotlights 'rebel women' from the past two centuries in this brisk and freewheeling history ... Miles also tracks how colonialism exacerbated tensions over women’s roles, details how Southern sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké linked abolitionism to women’s rights, and profiles 19th-century abortion provider Ann Trow, better known as Madame Restell ... Miles writes with verve and jam packs her account with useful information, but her resolutely optimistic outlook for the 21st century seems at odds with the history she chronicles, and her abrupt shifts from one topic to the next can be jarring. Nevertheless, this is an energetic and enthusiastic survey of feminist boundary pushing.