REVIEWS

Old Bones, New Tricks

Avirus projected to kill off half the world’s population is set to be released within 24 hours. A demoniacal billionaire geneticist created the pathogen in order to solve the world’s overpopulation problem. Dante’s apocalyptic vision of the underworld swirls around the race to find the virus, a crucial clue to the evil plan hidden in the poet’s death mask at the Palazzo Vecchio, in Florence. Will Dante be able to save humanity from beyond the grave? This is the plot of Dan Brown’s 2013 thriller, Inferno. In fiction and in fact, Dante Alighieri has been influencing the world order for centuries. Just how he’s achieved global-icon stature is the subject of Guy P. Raffa’s fascinating, comprehensive new book.

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Women of the Resistance

In 1918, when Ada Prospero was just 15 years old, she fell in love with her neighbor in Turin, Piero Gobetti. A year older than she, he was tall, with dark curly hair, dazzling and intense, his smile enchanting. She was studying music and he was about to begin a law degree. They decided to learn Russian together (Ada was already fluent in English and French) and to read the same book whenever they were apart. Influenced by Benedetto Croce and Antonio Gramsci, Piero and Ada soon became active campaigners for political renewal. Through the publications Energie Nuove (New Energies) and Rivoluzione Liberale (Liberal Revolution), founded by Piero and edited by Ada, the couple became vocal critics of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party following its entrance into the government in 1922. Soon Mussolini’s Blackshirts were attacking Piero, repeatedly beating him to a pulp.

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“My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul”: On Shakespeare and Women

In Shakespeare’s will, he left the bulk of his estate to his youngest daughter, Susanna; to his wife of 34 years, the woman who stayed home in Stratford to raise their three children while he went off to London to forge a brilliant career, he left his “second best bed.” Much scholarly ink has been spilled speculating on the meaning of this bequest — did Shakespeare despise her?

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How Women Make Capitalism Possible and Other Feminist Shades of Socialism: On Eleanor Marx, Mrs Engels, and the Paris Commune

“Not since Mary Wollstonecraft,” claims Rachel Holmes in her brilliant biography Eleanor Marx: A Life, had “any woman made such a profound, progressive contribution to English political thought — and action.”

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A Miniature Model of Modernity: Suite for Barbara Loden

“It seemed simple enough,” writes French author Nathalie Leger in the opening of her extraordinary new book Suite for Barbara Loden — and the reader immediately knows, whatever it will be, it won’t be simple — “all I had to do was write a short entry for a film encyclopaedia.”

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Nella Larsen’s Fantastic Motley of Ugliness and Beauty

The story of Nella Larsen’s literary career is one of the great tragedies of American letters. One of the Harlem Renaissance’s most influential and enigmatic writers, she published two novels and several short stories before disappearing into obscurity.

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Jumping Into an Orgy While Still Shaving Your Legs: On Women Filmmakers

We’ve all heard the latest appalling statistics regarding women in the film industry: according to a San Diego State University study, only 17% of directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing movies of 2014 were women. Despite the near parity of women and men receiving degrees from film schools, this statistic has remained virtually unchanged since the study began in 1998.

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Malinche’s Revenge and Other Chicana Lesbian Feminisms

Malinche, the Nahua slave girl who became mistress of the Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, was also his interpreter, advisor, mother of his children, and a key figure in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. In Mexican popular culture she is perceived as the ultimate traitor, an Eve figure whose evil is located in her sex and sexuality.

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The Joans of Arc

Joan of Arc’s life story, seemingly so incredible, so implausible, so full of mystery and the doggedly unknowable, has inspired centuries of artists and writers to retell it in their fashion. Already in Joan’s lifetime, Christine de Pizan seized upon it to write “Song of Joan,” an epic ballad about divinely sanctioned feminine prowess and its possibilities for world peace.

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“Great Hera!” “Suffering Sappho!”: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

In 1937, William Moulton Marston, Harvard-trained psychologist, inventor of the lie detector test, and soon-to-be creator of Wonder Woman (first appearing in 1941), earned himself headlines when he declared that women would one day rule the world. In her extraordinary biography of Marston’s female alter ego, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore notes that this prediction was as old as the Amazons.

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