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Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  269 ratings  ·  55 reviews
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

"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
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 31st 2013 by Virago (first published October 19th 2013)
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Average rating 3.38  · 
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Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's not really surprising that the women of the 1950's weren't all obedient housewives content to stay home while their husbands went out and conquered the world, but it is fun to read about some of the more outstanding rule flouters. The lively, enthusiastic style of writing makes this joint biography of unconventional women in a more conventional time very entertaining to read. Included among the ten women profiled is an archaeologist, an architect, a rally car driver, a magazine editor, a mo ...more
Fluffy but engaging, this was the perfect audio read. Cooke is more gossip columnist than historian, and my biggest frustration with this book was how often, despite its putative focus, she let the women's careers take back-seat to breathless descriptions of their scandalous personal lives. (My second-biggest frustration is that one woman's husband is described as having "enjoyed and participated in every known kind of sexual perversion" with absolutely no details given beyond mention of a fairl ...more
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
This could have been a fascinating read but as another reviewer below said, the book needs heavy editing and far fewer footnotes, or at least ones which are more relevant. For example, in the first paragraph about Nancy Spain, Cooke writes "In 1956 Hutchinson & Co. published an autobiography by the well-known personality Nancy Spain*" where the asterisk leads to the note "Before there were celebrities... there were personalities." This feels a bit pointless, even were it to be included in the ma ...more
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars

So this book wasn't too bad. But this was more of a broad overview and also there was no conclusion to this thing. It was just oh: here are 10 innovative women. THE END. At least this wasn't the longest book.
Therese Wiese
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I was really interested in the topic, but I just couldn't get into it. I read some, skimmed the rest. My apologies to the author for only 2 stars. The introduction and appendix of "richly subversive novels" were the most interesting things I found.
Emma Rund
DNFing... the writing is terrible. SO dry. And there’s no reason for it to be dry
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and highly readable. The dynamic lives of 10 career women in the 1950s - architect, lawyer, writer, chef, gardener, etc. - and their impact on postwar British culture. This is the kind of book that sends you to the library with a list of other books - I have a list of nine, all but three of which were previously unknown to me, and I intend to go back over the bibliography before I return it to make sure there's nothing I've missed about the hidden history of women in the 1940s and 19 ...more
Tara Chevrestt
The book title is rather self-explanatory. You know what this one is about. Ten women with brilliant careers in the fifties. As usual with a biography, half of it bored me; and half of it was intriguing. No offense to anyone, but a woman who wrote a cookbook doesn't interest me much; neither does a gardener. But some of the women featured in this book really did interest me and made for good reading:

Sheila van Damm: race-car driver and nightclub manager.

What interested me about her is that she f
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I found this book difficult to get into; the author's style immediately gives away how personally attached she is to her subject matter, and some of her enthusiasm and effusiveness was jarring. However, once I hunkered down, I could understand her fascination. Most of the women she wrote about did lead fascinating careers and were, if not all revolutionary, definitely trailblazers.

It shows how quickly things turn that while we are immersed in an almost survivalist "back to nature" phase in cooki
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties by Rachel Cooke is a highly recommended collection of seven essays that cover the lives and accomplishments of ten widely diverse women and their careers in the 1950's in the UK. Many of these women were the first in their careers, to make a mark. Cooke observes that, “One of the great upsides of being the first was that guilt, as it pertained to working women, had not yet been invented.”

The women presented in Her Brilliant Career incl
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
An interesting one to start the year. The subtitle to this is "Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties", and I bought it at a talk by the author late last year. It's UK focused, so the names may not mean much to a number of you, but she's written a book drawing together the lives of 10 women, some of whom knew each other, some didn't, to show how women's lives didn't always match the domestic stereotype we now have of the period. She's tried to also use the novelty of their private lives as one ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Aug 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
The first time I saw this book I was attracted by the title and cover, but decided to skip it because I wasn't familiar with the women it's about. Then I came across it again and realized that was a good reason to read it, not to skip it. The idea behind the book is to reveal the 1950s through portraits of ten successful career women of the decade. In this case, they are all British, but the prejudices and the lack of prejudices about women in the workplace were similar in the United States at t ...more
Jun 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
The title grabbed me, so I grabbed the book. Rachel Cooke's writing reads partly like a novel (the plot unfolding), partly like a biography (lining up the critical events in each woman's life), and always with references alluding to her substantial research. My knowledge of Britain's women in the 1950s was scant prior to reading Her Brilliant Career, and now I feel intimately connected not only with the lives of these ten individuals, but also of the culture surrounding each of them. I found it ...more
Nov 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good and interesting account of women's lives in the 50's. Not just any women, but those who knew what they wanted from their lives and acted accordingly. The book is well written, and most of all I like the details about these women. Some of them are completely fascinating, as is this one:

When they first bought the country house, the pantry window was frosted so no one could see the maid washing up. ‘It never occurred to us, the architect or the builder how dull it was for the poor girl to
Marathon County Public Library
A fascinating look at the role of women in the 1950s, this book shows us that there were definitely exceptions to the stereotypical housewife we've been shown. This book gives mini biographies of some of the extraordinary women who forged careers in a man's world and paved the way for the opportunities that women enjoy today. From race car drivers to writers to architects, we are given an in depth look at the careers and private lives of these pioneers. If you are interested in women's history, ...more
Danielle Maqsood
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
The book is incredibly well-researched and the amount of information contained is hard to conceive passing through one person's mind. Overall, it was an inspiring read and an important reminder of much of what women have endured in the struggle for equal rights. That said, I found it largely inaccessible without being an expert in the diverse fields in which the women mentioned in the book are experts. Not being British probably didn't help the accessibility either. There was a lot of name dropp ...more
May 26, 2015 rated it liked it
The premise is intriguing: lesser-known Englishwomen of the 1950's who had interesting careers -- a cookbook author, the first female judge in Britain, a gardener, sisters-in-law who were a film director and a film producer. The introduction places the biographical sketches into context, but there is no cross-cultural comparison (what women were doing in the U.S. or Canada, or in Europe). The appendix about fashion of the 50's was just added-on. The list of "some good and richly subversive novel ...more
Excellent in parts and a drag in others, this collection of biographical sketches of English women pioneers who persevered through the middle of the twentieth century in careers thought to belong to men accomplishes its goal. I best enjoyed the essay on Rose Heilbronn QC. Surely she is the model of the character in the BBC series 'Silk' or perhaps Portia in the Rumpole series? I bought the hardcover for my granddaughter, and Kindle and Audio versions for me. Audio version narrated by Jenny Funne ...more
Bettina Peters
Jan 09, 2015 rated it liked it
A fascinating look at the role of women in the 1950s, this book shows us that there were definitely exceptions to the stereotypical housewife we've been shown. This book gives mini biographies of some of the extraordinary women who forged careers in a man's world and paved the way for the opportunities that women enjoy today. From race car drivers to writers to architects, we are given an in depth look at the careers and private lives of these pioneers. If you are interested in women's history, ...more
Bethany Michelle  Planton
Her Brilliant Career is quite dense. Rachel Cooke did not leave any stone unturned when presenting the stories of ten British women in the 1950s. The 50's are not just what is portrayed in sitcoms and movies. These women did a lot for the rights and careers for women in numerous fields.
I had some trouble keeping up with all the information especially since it is about British women. I have very little frame of reference to places in England.
Mar 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Interesting but a bit gossipy. I have no idea what the criteria was for choosing the 10 women, three of them were in a menaage too so it's a bit of a stretch because their lives were quite interwoven, and two others share a chapter too. Instead of it being about 10 women it's more about 7 women whose lives also intersected with others that are integral parts of their lives. While interesting I wanted more.
Verity W
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really, really enjoyed this. The women featured are fascinating - if not always tremendously likeable - and the essay format made the book incredibly readable and easy to keep track of where you are. I've come away with a reading list of 50s novels to read and some films to look out for too. I'm looking forward to seeing what Rachel Cooke writes next.
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to love this book more than I did. For me, a lot of the chapters felt a little on the long side with a lot of information that wasn't necessarily relevant. Having said that, I couldn't help but feel that Cooke fell in love with each of the women as she learnt more about them and it is crammed full of interesting facts and stories about very interesting women.
Betty Adams
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a must for any and all feminists and/or anyone interested in the fifties. Each chapter somewhat debunks my belief that women were repressed after World War II. Each of the women profiled led a fascinating and productive life - all were in the UK, but I am re-thinking life for women in the US - sorry Betty Friedan. I highly recommend!
Jun 19, 2015 rated it liked it
This book has an interesting premise, which is to explore the lives of exceptional women who didn't conform to the inaccurate stereotype of how women lived in the 1950s. Unfortunately, I wasn't as drawn into it as I might have been, largely because the women they explored were all British and I didn't have the same cultural reference points as the author. I'd love to read a U.S. version.
Sarah Harkness
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nelly, biographical
The only reason I didn't mark this higher is that I wanted more of it: more brilliant women, and more about the ones who were included. There is so much fascinating material here, slightly disappointed that Ms Cooke didn't make more of it. But very well-written
Apr 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I didn't recognise many of the people who were mentioned in the footnotes of this book and sometimes this meant that some of the significance was lost on me. However I enjoyed the authors style of writing and could get a feel of the era and strength of character that these women had.
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
excellent. author is not an apologist. (i can't stand them lol) it's not one of those "in her own right" books which make me want to scream ( i'm being polite here) It's a straightforward and fairly blunt account of these women and i absorbed like fresh air.
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Loved the concept. Mini-bios to provide both a look at the individual women and the collective culture and times of upper middle class in the fifties. Most of the book I found very engaging. One, maybe two bios were less so, I consider reading it as time well spent.
Lisa Mcbroom
Mar 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Cooke profiles British women of the 1950's who had groundbreaking careers. Sadly a lot of these women were not recognized in the States. This book would have gotten 4 stars but the kitchy style of writing kind of turned me off!
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