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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 February 2014
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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VINE VOICEon 12 August 2014
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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on 22 August 2014
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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on 26 June 2014
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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on 10 December 2013
Such a great read and I love the intimate and conversational style - I feel this book is addressed to ME personally. Wonderful also to learn about women who, in the past, have received less publicity. I also really enjoyed the footnotes. Cannot wait to see what Rachel Cooke tackles next!
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VINE VOICEon 26 January 2014
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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on 3 December 2014
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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on 22 July 2014
I have enjoyed this book for the very reasons that some other reviews have not: the random facts (one reviewer said they were facts that anyone could have found out for themselves ... I paraphrase ... but would they have bothered had they not heard of these ten women in the first place?) and the going-off-at-a-tangent; for going-off-at-a-tangent is often how we describe people or things. We can be telling someone something, some anecdote perhaps, and then a thought occurs which we then weave into our 'story' before getting back on track again with what we were saying in the first place. Well, I don't know about you, but I do! And I don't really think the writer of this book can be accused of 'random facts' when she has delved quite closely into the lives of these amazing women, trail blazers in their day, and presented us with facts that few of us would've known about or even bothered to find out. Some loose ends have not been tied, but that's life. We can't know everything there is to know about someone's life. And I suspect the author might've had reams more information at her fingertips, she just had to be circumspect in the information she gave us and in ten essays, just sufficient to complete a 300-page book.

This book reads like a good novel, peopled with engaging characters (even if they are not always likeable, Alison Smithson being an example). One point in its favour which I don't think has yet been made is that the footnotes are exactly that: at the foot of the page. I know many works of non-fiction today favour the footnotes at the back of the book, so if you want to read them you must keep turning backwards and forwards and, I don't know about you, but I just give up. These footnotes have been excellent reads in themselves and have made me consider researching some of the other 'characters' in the book, for example Elizabeth Lane, KC; Sir Bernard Spilsbury, forensic pathologist; and Helena Normanton, KC. Just three from the section on Rose Heilbron alone.

I hope that Rachel Cooke will now follow this book with perhaps ten more extraordinary women, perhaps of the 1960s.
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on 1 September 2014
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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on 20 August 2014
Being born in 1958, I am too young to have followed these careers as they unfolded. To be able to read about them now & events of their day has been hugely enjoyable & very educating. I would thoroughly recommend this book.
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