Chris's Reviews > When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

When Everything Changed by Gail Collins
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's review
Feb 02, 2010

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bookshelves: history, social-science
Read in January, 2010

I've always thought of myself as "moderate" on most political issues, but recent conversations with co-workers have helped me realize my views fall squarely in the "liberal" category. So, when The New York Times gave a rave review to this book, I decided it was time to educate myself about some true liberals (or "libbers", as the case may be) and added it to my library hold list.

My first impression was the one I get from so many columnists-turned-book-writers: It reads like a huge collection of newspaper articles. You literally cannot go two pages without getting to a new sub-heading and matching anecdote. Initially this annoyed me, as I had been fantasizing about an in-depth education on the modern history of the women's movement. However, the style slowly won me over, especially as life went from the relative lull of the holiday season to full-time work/volunteering/etc. If you have 10 minutes to kill, this is a book you can pick up without worrying about having to abandon it mid-story.

Also, while this book does not have an academic level of depth by any means, it does provide a nice overview of key points in the women's movement, including Civil Rights, the formation of NOW, the fight for the ERA, and the mass entrance of women into higher education and the workplace throughout the 70s and 80s. Collins introduces you to hundreds of women--some famous, some not so--and recounts their personal stories in a way that helps make the human connection to major events that seem so much bigger than one person.

By the second half of the book, I was truly enjoying myself. I got especially interested when Collins hit the 1980s, as I was able to put the stories in the context of my own life. At one point, a 1980s executive jokes about how they wore "little bowties" to look as professional as men. I vividly remember the yellow paisley bowtie my HR executive mother wore to the office almost every day. At that point, I knew this book had struck a cord with me.

Ultimately, I appreciated this book for making me think. I've always held a small, secret bit of resentment toward my mother for what I felt was her choosing a career over me. Now, with the context this book provided, I can appreciate how tough that decision must have been for her, and how after being one of only 4 women in her MBA class, she must have felt that she HAD to prove women have a place in the business world. Now I am forced to reasess my own long-held plans of moving to part-time work whenever I have kids of my own. In trying to help my children, will I end up hurting my entire gender?

That's one of the many tough questions raised by this overall enjoyable book.
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Mary it's interesting that you note the book reads like a bunch of newspaper articles - are you familiar with the saying "journalism is the first draft of history"? (reference: http://tinyurl.com/472ow5e)

:)


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