This is an interesting collection of biographies of four (4) different women who all found a passion and applied it to helping to make the world a better place. This book profiles: Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodhall and Alice Waters — previously I was only familiar with the work of Carson and Goodhall, but their profiles were quite in depth and I enjoyed learning more about their backgrounds.
Carson is known for being the founder of the ecology movement which pre-dates a lot of activism we are seeing today, and in many senses she faced a lot of backlash because of being a woman, with many of her theories being dismissed by male peers and/or the scientific community but she found her niche through several well written and researched books. I have only read Silent Spring but it was ground breaking in its message and it has a very prominent place in the environment movement, in the sense of questioning both the short and long term impact of what we do to the Earth and those consequences, many of which we are seeing now.
Jacobs was an advocate for poor urban neighborhoods usually areas where lower class to lower middle class people lived, including both immigrants and blue collar laborers. Post World War II, and into the 1950’s, 1960’s, and the 1970’s many of these older neighborhoods were razed in favor of urban development projects that did not help the poverty issues they said they would resolve, nor address homelessness, unemployment, drug use, or crime. In many U.S. cities, they even made certain factors worse by isolating public housing from neighborhoods with thriving commerce that could nurture small business and jobs. Jacob’s efforts centered around New York City and the West Village. Her efforts to organize and succeed were interesting to compare and contrast. My city Boston, MA saw similar losses in the bulldozing of the West End Neighborhood into a development of apartment towers–high end housing and office space and the famous traffic bottle neck of Storrow Drive, which continues today even post the Big Dig Project. And to note, my great grandmother’s half brother spent most of his life writing angry letters to the Boston Redevelopment Authority/BRA demanding reparations for people displaced from their homes and businesses/jobs. I’m sure he would shudder and scream, at all the buildings being sold to developers around the city in different neighborhoods and being turned into high end residency towers.
Goodhall is quite well known for her ground breaking work observing and studying primates. Before reading I knew a little about her work, this profile was really enlightening to learn about her upbringing and education and the challenges she faced and her often troubled relationship with her mentor Lewis Leakey as well.
Waters was an early pioneer of the slow food movement including pioneering the idea of “farm to table” — locally source products — and her restaurant in California became center of those movements and change on the west coast.
This was an interesting, educational and enjoyable read — highly recommended.