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on 7 February 2003
De Beauvoir takes us on an epic tour from the dawn of the human race to the contemporary world of 1940's commerce and culture, through the internal workings of the body to how others perceive them via the beliefs, thoughts and prejudices of societies throughout the world. Her breadth and depth of research is an attempt to answer one simple question- why are women constantly seen as inferior to men, in effect the "second sex"?
Such a question is almost impossible to answer but at just under seven hundred pages of intelligent writing TSS gets as close to the quick as any women's study or feminist book has got before or after its publication. Questioning every one of the "labels" attached to the human female De Beauvoir pulls apart traditional thinking on issues such as the "innate" maternal instinct, women's intellectual capacity and physical strength and make-up. Every chapter is a definitive case in itself and De Beauvoir's collection of facts, statistics and case studies are unshakable in their accuracy. Her conclusions are well thought through and easy to follow and it is only the sheer amount and wealth of information she gives us that can seem overwhelming at times.
The very fact that a woman has written such a masterpiece is evidence enough that women are as intellectually equal to men but it is sadly revealing of our patriarchal society that gives TSS less reverence than it deserves. Since the 1940's many other theories have developed in the area of gender studies so TSS is no longer the "one text that covers all". Supplementing TSS with more recent works such as those by Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin and Kate Millet will give you a more general picture of feminism but it still remains the greatest and most complete work on women's studies and possibly the most important book to come out of the twentieth century.
This is essential reading for any self-respecting individual, male or female, although its size and density means it is probably better to read this segments at a time.
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on 7 December 2009
Be careful to buy the right translation when you buy this book. The 2009 translation is unabridged and reputable. The earlier one by Parshley is severely abridged and much less accurate. Amazon has accidently The Second Sex (Vintage classics)The Second SexThe Second Sex (Vintage classics)The Second Sex
linked a favourable review of the new translation to an edition of the old translation.
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So commences Simone de Beauvoir in her monumental work concerning one of the most essential issues of human existence. She uses the singular form (but in a collective sense) and follows it with a question mark. How do women become "women", with defined places in society, and particularly vis-à-vis the opposite sex. She says that women become the "other," different from the "normal standard." De Beauvoir's erudition is astonishing; her book is grand "tour de force," examining virtually all aspects of human knowledge. The book is the classic feminist manifesto, written more than 60 years ago, and it still eclipses all subsequent works. It is dense; rich in insights, and lengthy, and clearly not for the "fun read" crowd. No review can do it justice, certainly not mine. One can only hope to throw out enough tidbits that the reader says that the effort in tackling this book will be well-compensated. De Beauvoir accomplished this remarkable feat of analysis and hypotheses just as she was turning 40. As only one example of her erudition in literature, in a couple of pages she moves from Alain Fournier's depiction of Yvonne de Galais in The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) (Penguin Classics) to Henry Miller's concept of god in a [...] to Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov sacrifices at Sonia's feet.

"The Second Sex" is divided into two books, one entitled "Facts and Myths," the other "Woman's Life Today." Of course parts of the book are dated; consider that one chapter is entitled "The Point of View of Historical Materialism." Yes, Communism has wound up in the proverbial dust-bin of history, as is another chapter title, the male-dominated point of view of psychoanalysis. She examined the concept of woman in the works of five authors: Montherlant, D. H. Lawrence, Claudel, Breton and Stendhal. It was personally reassuring that she liked Stendhal the best, saying: "...from this carnival atmosphere where Woman is disguised variously as fury, nymph, morning star, siren, I find it a relief to come upon a man who lives among women of flesh and blood." Elsewhere, making a comparison with the so-called "Negro Problem" and "Jewish Problem," which she says is neither, she says that: "the woman problem has always been a man's problem." Other uncomfortable insights: "that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but that which kills."

In the second book De Beauvoir speaks of the acculturation process whereby girls are taught to be "coquettish and seductive," and are ambivalent in arousing male interest. She says that "the feminine body is peculiarly psychosomatic," and that "woman's sexuality is conditioned by the total situation." The entire chapter on a Married Woman makes for more uncomfortable reading, including the insight that: "Many married women find amusement in confiding to one another the `tricks' they use in simulating a pleasure that they deny feeling in reality;" "This is indeed a melancholy science- to dissimulate, to use trickery, to hate and fear in silence, to play on the vanity and the weaknesses of a man... to `manage' him."

In the chapter on the Mother, her discussion on abortion could tumble out of today's newspapers. She says that a mother who is harsh with her child is seeking vengeance on the man. In terms of her Social Life, she repeats the familiar aphorism that "woman dresses to inspire jealousy in other women,..." and that it is only in Old Age that a woman gains her independence, and can determine who she actually is. Another acute sentiment: "Man enjoys the great advantage of having a God endorse the codes he writes..." Her conclusion certainly starts depressingly enough: "No, woman is not our brother; through indolence and depravity we have made of her a being apart, unknown, having no weapon other than her sex... but moreover, an unfair weapon of the eternal little slave's mistrust."

I found some significant information in some of the other posted reviews: There is the issue of a faulty translation, which even excludes portions of the original text, and this matter has never been resolved. There is also the very real matter of her personal life, failing to "walk the talk," and assuming a subordinate position to Jean-Paul Sartre, including the rumored procurement of younger women. Alas! Subordinate no longer, though, they lay side by side in Montparnasse cemetery, for those with pilgrimage inclinations.

Overall, a superlative book that can be read and enjoyed numerous times for the central insights De Beauvoir renders.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on June 26, 2009)
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on 1 December 2009
This is a respectful, idiomatic and unabridged translation of Simone de Beauvoir's classic work. The language is crystal clear, not at all "translator-ese, but plain English and a pleasure to read. The talented translator team have succeeded in making Mme de Beauvoir's highly original and still eye-opening analysis more than simply understandable. They have made clear and convincing this compelling, mind-stretching journey across a variety of disciplines about how men and women misunderstand each other and how much we can gain when we try not to. Mme de Beauvoir's reasoning is set forth far more clearly and convincingly than in any previous abridged translations.

If you read excerpts of this classic work in the past, read it now in the unabridged entirety.

This will be the most appreciated Christmas book of the season.

Pat on the back to Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier for setting a new translation standard.
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on 11 January 2011
Simone was of course Sartre's muse and his intellectual equal. No mean feat. The Second Sex is a complete study of what it means to be female. Obviously it was written over fifty years ago and reflects the fact that women were less empowered than today. De Beauvoir seems to have read everything worth reading in literature and philosophy and she draws on her massive erudition to support her assertions. I could write an endless review but it's all in the book. If you are interested in how 50% of the planet think, feel, suffer, hope and survive then you MUST read this book. Even if you are not interested in matters female Simone de Beauvoir is worth reading simply for her brilliance, clear thinking, use of language and her considerable skill as a writer. It's good to have a book like this at hand for when you want to read something substantial, relevant, interesting, educational and humane. Ist Class! JP :P)
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on 28 March 2006
The Second Sex is a book of mammoth proportions, displaying the intellectual prowess of de Beauviour in full swing, putting women right up there in the literary firmament. It is almost impossible to overestimate this book, and it is a shame that it never recieved its due praise whence published. However, this unfairness only concretises Beauvior's arguments upon Patriarchal attitudes. TSS is encyclopaedic in scope, and dazzling in its wealth of knowledge. Opening this book is like opening Pandora's box - there is no end to what you may find inside.
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on 8 February 2010
I'm not in a position to review this translation myself as my French isn't good enough, but readers should be aware of the long and very poor review given to it in the London Review of Books by Toril Moi (Vol 32. Pt 3, 11 February 2010). The reviewer says, "After taking a close look at the whole book, I found three fundamental and pervasive problems: a mishandling of key terms for gender and sexuality, an inconsistent use of tenses, and the mangling of syntax, sentence structure and punctuation."

And, "The book is marred by unidiomatic or unintelligible phrases and clueless syntax; by expressions such as `the forger being', `man's work equal', `the adulteress wife', and `leisure in château life'; and formulations such as `because since woman is certainly to a large extent man's invention', `a condition unique to France is that of the unmarried woman', `alone she does not succeed in separating herself in reality', `this uncoupling can occur in a maternal form.' The translation is blighted by the constant use of `false friends', words that sound the same but don't mean the same in the two languages."

Also, "The notes, bibliography and index are riddled with mistakes. Names are misrecognised and bibliographical references are botched."

If you're thinking if forking out £30, or even Amazon's reduced price, you might want to check out the whole review. It looks as if the earlier edition, which was only criticized for the cuts it amde and not for the quality of the translation, might be the one to stick with for a while.
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on 2 March 2014
Read it, de Beauvoir's book heralds a new era and probably one of the most strident times in feminist writing and theory from France post-second world war. Many books and thinkers since have used this work to build on and expand the notions of social, cultural and radical feminism.
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VINE VOICEon 9 April 2008
Simone de Beauvoir was scandalised and ridiculed particularly by the church when this first came out in 1949 which must have been a disappointment for her. Perhaps a radical book at the time but very relevant to the present and this is worth reading by all women and any man who agrees that women should have a better time whilst on this planet.

The book covers many aspects of being a woman, begining when humans first roamed the earth as nomads and the tyranny of life as a woman giving birth constantly as unlike many animals humans are always fertile. Infant death and infantacide were a means of survival then and the reason why the human population was realatively small for tens of thousands of years. Then tilling the earth when the male began to domineer and own all land, passing it on to their male heirs, leaving woman to be a virtual slave to fathers and husbands, the start of male domination!

I learnt some really interesting things from reading this for example: I didn't know that reproduction was properly underrstood until the mid 19th Century, all sorts of bizare beliefs were practised prior to this revelation, people even believed that sperm contained tiny little people!!! Also discussed is how man and woman are prisoners of instinctive behaviour and really cannot help themselves to a great extent, brilliant for understanding relationships, ie why men walk away after sex in many cases but instinctively a for a woman it is the start of relationship due to the feelings of wanting to nurture a pregnancy. It also explains why in some ways a woman does not always progress due to involuntarily sabotaging their own plans ie preferring part time work or not going for the promotion due to home making instincts. Prostitution, love, ageing are all discussed in depth in this volume. A fascinating read, it sucks you in and you cannot put it down. Only one negative comment and that is that I found it very slightly depressing as there is little hope for women to be truly independant before they get old, ugly and die according to Ms De Beauvoir.
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on 17 September 2015
The paper and ink were mismatched in this edition, the former cheap, the latter blotting out and 'spidering' on every letter so as to make it virtually illegible. I strongly recommend if you want an edition of this book, you avoid this. The same publisher's reprint is slightly less bad in terms of print, however, bewarned, it's far from great.

Oh and de Beauvoir is a bloody pain.
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