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Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties Hardcover – 31 Oct 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; First Edition edition (31 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844087409
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844087402
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 3.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 178,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Inspirational, warm and witty (Daily Mail)

Rachel Cooke shines a new light in an elegantly original way into the 1950s and especially into the role of women therein. By cleverly focussing on the lives of several extraordinary women, she manages to produce a social history which is highly absorbing and richly informative. A very enjoyable and distinctive book (Kate Atkinson)

There is warmth and lightness of spirit to this book: it is witty, intelligent, kind and poignant. Cooke exudes love and knowledge of people, gardens, food, art . . . she leaves you wanting more (The Times)

Vastly entertaining, cannily researched and sharply perceptive (Telegraph)

Wonderfully evocative . . . Cooke's writing sparkles; it is fresh and original and has great insight (Literary Review)

Eloquent, concise, fair-minded, witty and elegant . . . Her Brilliant Career is the perfect book with which to celebrate Virago's 40 years of championing feminist writing (Amanda Craig Independent on Sunday)

Ten fascinating biographies for the price of one, and an exuberant dig into a decade which we've rather grassed over. Her Brilliant Career is a vivid, witty, affectionate page-turner about some amazing lost heroines (Melanie Reid The Times)

Rachel Cooke's fantastic, clever, funny, illuminating book about 10 remarkable women (India Knight Sunday Times)

What a treat . . . Thank you, Rachel Cooke, for finding, and judiciously commenting on, these women insouciant of feminism and strangers to guilt (which 'had not yet been invented'); for succinct scene-setting of the 1950s with phrases like 'Cue mambo on the juke-box'; and for never once using the dread word "feisty" (The Oldie)

Cooke is one of the outstanding British journalists of her generation (Sebastian Faulks New York Times)

Cooke writes with such zest about such interesting lives (Guardian)

Her Brilliant Career is a corrective, a hurrah for the oldies. Despite barriers that dwarf those that persist today, plenty of gutsy women rode the Fifties unthwarted and unclenched. Ms Cooke takes an exuberant gallop through the careers and private lives of ten of them in Britain (The Economist)

Book Description

Women and the Fifties: you will be amazed.` A gallery of vividly drawn portraits - witty, poignant, inspiriting - that opens up a new front in our understanding of the "lost" Fifties' - David Kynaston, author of Modernity Britain

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Saxton VINE VOICE on 12 Aug. 2014
Format: Paperback
A complete gem of a book with a relaxed and readable style that makes its subject matter so immediate. As a piece of social history I found it fascinating; as a piece of leisure reading, completely enjoyable.

Besides the ten women who are the main subjects of the book, there are a whole load more in the introduction (which in itself tempts the reader to find out more about them online). Then there is a great bibliography of novels by women in the 50s/early 60s which is well worth exploring. This book is bursting with information.

My favourite chapters were the ones on Nancy Spain, Joan Werner Laurie and Sheila Van Damm; on Betty and Muriel Box; and on Rose Heilbron QC which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the others; these were women who worked in fields I know more about. It is interesting to have the biographies of all the women leading up to their significant achievements in the 50s and a little subsequent detail. The format works.

You find yourself thinking, “Why didn’t I know more about these women?” The answer is obvious. This book is a real encouragement to spread the word, though, not because the author indulges in any polemic to do so, but because it is so readable and makes you realise that they deserve to be talked about; that youngsters should know more about what these women did because of their significance for the development of modern British society. And to show that such things are possible.

I certainly hope that Rachel Cooke continues to produce more books like this; hopefully more detailed and longer biographies of significant women in this engagingly readable style which sacrifices no detail and analysis and yet is so comfortable.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bookie TOP 100 REVIEWER on 3 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was looking forward to reading this, but it wasn't the delight I'd hoped for. The research is extensive and there's a decent enough bibliography. I found the style intensely irritating. Lots of facts that sometimes seemed to have been strung together, almost at random. Parts read like a pick and mix; the content came from a range of sources and was then rehashed to make a biopic, but sometimes without any particular insight into the subject.

The author was also inclined to go off at a tangent about other people. Although linked to the subject, detail of their background added little and was generally an unwelcome distraction. There were several factual inaccuracies and these undermined my belief in some of the supposed facts. Whilst the women and other topics in the last chapters selected were interesting enough, I was left without any sense of how they may have shaped or indeed defined the 1950s.

I don't underestimate the effort involved in putting this book together and I did finish it. But unlike David Kynaston's epic works on many aspects of this period, this one was more light and fluffy and far less engaging.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Claretta VINE VOICE on 26 Jan. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This came highly recommended and, in parts, I enjoyed it very much. As with any book which is basically a collection of essays, some are more interesting than others. The final one, on the lawyer Rose Heilbron, left me wanting to know a lot more about her, while the section on architect Alison Smithson was intriguing because she came across as so sure of herself and, for the most part, so unlikeable. Some of the other women were rather less fascinating. Her Brilliant Career makes some good points about the role of women in the Fifties and their career opportunities, and captures the period flavour well, but I found the chatty style a bit grating at times. It was also fatally undermined for me by the glaring error where she repeatedly refers to the actress Ann Todd as Janet Todd (in a caption, too.) If such a basic mistake got through, how carefully was the rest of the book checked?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dorothy Barbour on 3 Dec. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Yes, they were extraordinary- all born largely into wealth and privilege and so well able to have unusual lives. Only one met difficulties or any kind of struggle; many of them were quite simply funded by men.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Len Clark on 22 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rachel Cooke's "Her Brilliant Career' shows the more radical side of adventurous women of the 1950's, in not being afraid to face the challenges they set themselves in what was then even more than now, a predominantly 'Man's world' Excellent accounts of individual lives.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Read this for Book Club - generated some good discussion although it was pointed out that there were some editing errors. But an interesting precis of some interesting lives.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. F. Green on 26 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Apart from being a well-written account of 10 women in the news during the 1950s in Britain, presented in bite-sized chunks that make it ideal holiday reading, this is a thought-provoking review of how the media shaped, and were shaped by, a very varied and interesting bunch of women.
Some I had never heard of, like Patience Gray (and I have now bought one of her books), some are old favourites (like Margery Fish, and I was moved to re-read "We made a Garden*). Some I remember simply as names of the time like Nancy Spain and Sheila van Damm. All are well-researched, their lives put over with considerable brio, a good read.
I immediately bought 3 more copies as birthday presents for like-minded friends, all went down really well.
Please could this writer do something similar for the next decade.
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