100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell (2017). A review by John Cook

100 Nasty Women

I certainly got more than I anticipated with this work. I should have paid more attention to the cover featuring a sculptured female head adorned with cool sunnies. A book that consisted of a listing of the stories of 104 women of various degrees of fame, however well written, might run the risk of being a bit boring. However, the sunnies and the Trumpian reference to ‘nasty’ are key to how the presentation has been enlivened. The author has UK and American roots and street cred for her satirical writing on feminism and gender in print and on the net. Her attitude is disruptive, somewhat in your face and unapologetically pop.

The women presented cover all aspects of life with the emphasis (as promised) on the historical up to early modern times and are grouped roughly by time and behaviours.  I recognised quite a few of the entries which are necessarily brief and will send the reader off to Wiki-land or somewhere they can follow up on the introductions provided. I was particularly happy to see included one of my recently discovered heroes Jind Kaur, mother of the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire, Duleep Singh. He was taken over by the villainous Brits (lots of that in Jewell’s book) and was absorbed and emasculated at Queen Victoria’s court. A recent movie has been made about his life but it has had lousy reviews. His mother, however, was very much a different kettle of fish and was an A grade thorn in the side of the Imperialist Brits. I really enjoyed William Dalrymple’s coverage of her life in ‘Koh-I-Noor’. It is clear that many of the very unknown examples in this book would welcome similar exploration. The British referred to this disruptive woman as the ‘Messalina of the Punjab’ which highlights their deep-rooted male fear of potentially disruptive feisty women (pace Queen Victoria) and the book repeats this theme in every possible situation. This is definitely NOT dead white man history which makes it a pity that not enough present day half dead white men either would not take the book up or would last more than 50 pages.

Part of the presentation is some ‘edgy’ language which can be interesting, alerting or simple fun depending on the context and I was untroubled by its nature though occasionally found it a bit repetitive. There is a minor use of acronyms and internet usages which were thoughtfully referenced at the conclusion. I admit to checking on a couple that I couldn’t guess. One very interesting suject was Hedy Lamarr which aroused ancient echoes in my memory banks and proved to be a fascinating example whose life and work still has an effect on us all to this day in a field still dominated by men – electronics.

All told it was an informative and fun read with insights into the lives of some genuinely scary and a lot of courageous and sometimes tragic women who have left their often un-sung, unhonoured mark on our lives (even men!).


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