Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Figuring” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,656 ratings  ·  325 reviews
Figuring explores the complexities of love and the human search for truth and meaning through the interconnected lives of several historical figures across four centuries—beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and ending with the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, who catalyzed the environmental movement.

Kindle Edition, 592 pages
Published February 5th 2019 by Pantheon
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Figuring, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Beth I'm sure the audio would be good, but the information is dense. I found myself underlining and taking additional notes for my benefit of following the…moreI'm sure the audio would be good, but the information is dense. I found myself underlining and taking additional notes for my benefit of following the connections that are made.(less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,656 ratings  ·  325 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Figuring
Nov 02, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I have fallen in love with Maria Popova's weekly newsletter, Brain Pickings, and I cannot wait for this book.
For the first third or so of the book I wasn’t quite sure what Popova was really getting at. There were a lot of historical figures surrounding her “main” subjects and I was having a little bit of trouble keeping up with the jumps back and forth (and I kept confusing Maria Mitchell and Margaret Fuller, oops). But then Popova got to her chapters on Emily Dickinson and just wow. Blew me away. That was when the book began to gel for me and I started to really understand that Popova was drawing all ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The city of Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, more than Venice, and actually more than any city in the world. The more prominent ones downtown have been named for local celebrities: Andy Warhol, Roberto Clemente, David McCullough. And Rachel Carson.

That’s nice and all; having a bridge named after you, I mean. But I think Rachel Carson would have been happier with another eponymous honor: The Rachel Carson Trail, a dozen miles north of her bridge and only a short drive from me. I go there for solitary
The trouble of doing your research, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, is that - seduced by those happy coincidences and curious facts - you feel compelled to include almost everything in your final work. I know full well how frustrating is having to read dozens of articles, check as many books and references only to write 10-page essays. A name in a letter, an obscure allusion in a poem, or a detailed footnote can send anyone in that time-consuming frenzy of wanting to know more. The ...more
The author of this book, Maria Popova, is a well known curator of the excellent website Brain Pickings has an eclectic collection of articles, books and other writings from various disciplines. Each post introduces a work followed by the author's unique take on the creative work. This site has provided me tons of recommendations for what next to read. And that is why I jumped into this book as soon as i saw it on my recommended list on goodreads. If nothing else this book woul ...more
Giorgia ~ Reads
5 ⭐️

How do I begin to explain this book..

If you know about or are a reader of then all I have to say is that this book, is like a lengthier version of that. Popova curated facts and ideas from an array of people who are as varied as humanly possible. The whole idea for the book is wonderful really, and I'm not using that word out of some sort of habit but because I mean it... I've been a fan of the blog for yearsss and I always check for emails that alert me of the next blog
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, favorites
I wonder how can one review a book as expansive and immersive as Figuring without somehow falling short in revealing its true splendour to its prospective readers. There’s only one thing that I can say about the book without a shadow of doubt — it is every bit as incredible and layered as Brain Pickings that is run by Maria Popova, who happens to be the author of this splendid labour of love and intense research.

The more I try, the more I fail to find the words that would do justice to this gen
Inderjit Sanghera
Popov's elegiacal account of the lives of a number of inspirational artists and scientists  acts as a paean to creativity and individuality and, most importantly, the truth. The crux of the book deals with three women-Maria Mitchell, Harriet Hosmer and Margaret Fuller -whose lives intersect not only with one another, but also with the majority of the people who appear in the book, from Emerson to Walt Whitman, from Emily Dickinson to Elizabeth Browning, these unconventional and brilliant women a ...more
Feb 05, 2019 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-am-so-excited
The first book by the author of the prominent blog Brain Pickings - Maria Popova. Maybe it will disrupt my already compiled reading list.
I read the prelude just now and it is exciting! :)
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2019
Some truths, like beauty, are best illuminated by the sidewise gleam of figuring, of meaning-making. In the course of our figuring, orbits intersect, often unbeknownst to the bodies they carry – intersections mappable only from the distance of decades or centuries. Facts crosshatch with other facts to shade in the nuances of a larger truth – not relativism, no, but the mightiest realism we have. We slice through the simultaneity by being everything at once: our first names and our last names,
Feb 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Popova's blog and I've been following her for years. She is an excellent curator. But I don't think her skills work in book format. There were some really beautiful stories in here--especially at the end. If the book had just been Emily Dickinson And Rachel Carson, it would have been great, but there are too many people in here and not enough of a thread to tie them together.
Aditya Vidhate
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I believe this is a one of its kind book, encapsulating a unique and enlightening flow of thoughts from one of the most amazing minds I have discovered - the human named Maria Popova.

If I were to dryly put a description to this book, I would say it is an interwoven web of very personal biographies of some of the most amazing and paradigm shifting people from our recent history, right from Johannes Kepler to Rachael Carson, almost all of them women (albeit Kepler) and almost all of them gay.
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As soon as I finished "Figuring," I sent the copy I read to one of my closest friends, and I only wish I had more copies to send to more people.

As I read this book, I found it very difficult to describe what it was about when people asked. "Figuring" does not comfortably fit into any genre. It's not quite biography, not quite history, not quite science, not quite poetry--and yet, it's all of those and more. It transcends genre. It's a lyrical meditation on connection and meaning that traverses c
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-reads, audio
As seems fitting for the founder of the eclectic website "Brainpickings," Maria Popova's book is itself eclectic and wise - though not elliptic like that site tends to be - it's quite substantive. The intellectual lives and passions of Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, Lise Meitner, and Rachel Carson, among others, are exhaustively described and mined. It's dense and wordy; rambling and tangential; erudite and heavily researched but non-scholarly; genre-busting and multidisciplinary; but also em ...more
Gerrie Chua
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: special-to-me
I have never felt more profoundly moved by a book. I spent 6 weeks (long, yet so fulfilling for the soul!) with Figuring, and it’s truly felt like such a journey. It was certainly not easy to get through at times, especially when it came to experiencing (yes! you could feel it all!) the deep hurtings of Popova’s chosen figures (especially when it came to unsuccessful love or emotional excess, because ~relatable~) their disappointments when it comes to the machinations of fate (despite their ardu ...more
Radmila Mladenova
As with her blog, Maria Popova proves once again that she is a brainy and brilliant synthesiser, churning up valuable texts to skim the buttercream off the top for her readership.

Her book in not a biography – and it is a pity that it has been judged here, rather harshly, against the conventions of established genres – but a cultural archaeology of unorthodox, unthinkable and impossibly brave ideas showing how these were born out of complicated personal biographies, and how their expansion has be
Feb 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting pieces that didn’t quite come together as a whole for me.
i have spent countless hours on marveling at how Maria Popova manages to trace connections between writers, artists, and scientists. she is so insightful & capable of original thought. figuring is based on the lives & connections of various figures in history. i might have done some crying after reading the sections on Emily Dickinson & Rachel Carson. a quick visit to ms. popova's website or twitter feed will give you an idea of how she thinks & writes. I give this all the star ...more
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Imagine standing inside of one of Gaudi's gravity models. You're eye-height with the small weights and fine lines that connect everything in small swoops of thin rope. There is a mystery as to what final shapes are intended and the strong sense of time: both the time it clearly took to create and clearly takes to absorb. It's a bit like trying to see Cassiopeia while floating between Schedar and Caph. Wait for it.

This book gives a tour of the constellations of lives full of fervor and when you
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was excited for this book for so long because I love the authors blog. I really wanted to like this book, but I just gave up about 30 percent of the way in. It is extremely hard to follow and quite a chore to read because there are too many people introduced in seemingly disparate threads. I would often end a chapter bewildered and out of energy.

I am giving this 2 stars instead of 1 because the research that went into this book is inspiring by itself.
Jean Rhude
I am loving this book. Amazing first sentence and it just gets better and better.
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is Marie Popova's enthusiasm and optimism that I most liked in this book that in the past would be classified as Letters and is part history, part biography, part opinion, all rendered in prose that reflects her love for her material. Popova interprets and connects the biographies of individuals she admires, starting with Kepler, but quickly moving to figures, mostly American women from the nineteenth century, before ending with Rachel Carson. She emphasizes the accomplishments of the individ ...more
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-it
Though the audio has been a great companion all week (especially through 12 or so hours of driving), and it taught me so much, I feel incapable of providing an apt description of what the heck I have just consumed. Popova is an ultra-capable writer and easily wove together the lives of Rachel Carson, Margaret Fuller, Maria Mitchell and others, showing immense knowledge of these personalities, their successes and contributions to science and literature, even went so far as to describe their love ...more
Megan Bell
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
If biography has traditionally been the craft of drawing out the line of a life from the cobwebs of history, in Figuring, Maria Popova traces each thread of silk in the web of thought that connects her subjects of study. This rich, enlightening journey through feminism, transcendentalism, environmentalism, and philosophy could only be penned by the author of Brainpickings and is sure to break your heart even as your mind soars with every page.
Chaitanya Sethi
I have no words. Speechless.


“Lives interweave with other lives, and out of the tapestry arise hints at answers to questions that raze to the bone of life: What are the building blocks of character, of contentment, of lasting achievement? How does a person come into self-possession and sovereignty of mind against the tide of convention and unreasoning collectivism? Does genius suffice for happiness, does distinction, does love?”

How do I even begin to summarize Figuring?
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would gladly quote every single page of this book. I don't want to explain it, I don't know enough words with the use of which I could try and make my best shot to describe the whole reading experience. From Kepler to Carson, what a journey of constantly intertwining realities in the vast unity of things... Inspiring and humbling. That's what the book was.
Asif B.
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
michigan daily review to come -- but this was a dense beautiful read
"How, in this blink of existence bookended by nothingness, do we attain completeness of being?"

I can't stop myself giving this ambitious, moving, erudite and fascinating book 5 stars. To boil it down and strip it of its wonder, it is essentially a string of historical biographies covering poets and astronomers and mathematicians and writers, and many people who were both.

"To hold space for complexity, to resist the violence of containing and classifying what transcends familiar labels, takes pat
Dec 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In reading Figurings, I found myself copying down quote after quote – from both Maria Popova and the works of those she highlighted – while simultaneously feeling bored, restless, and distracted. The first eighty pages were such a slog (a beautiful, artful slog) that I skipped ahead to Rachel Carson, then went in reverse again to visit Popova’s thoughts on Emily Dickinson – feeling new depths of appreciation for the contributions each made to the world even as I surreptitiously checked how many ...more
Cheryl Kennedy
"Stretching between them is a cast of artists, writers, and scientists---mostly women, mostly queer---whose private contributions have the way we understand, experience, and appreciate the universe.

Emanating from these lives are larger questions about the measure of a good life and what it means to leave a lasting mark of betterment on an imperfect world. Weaving through the narrative is a set of peripheral figures---Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Herman Melvill
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune in and Build Credibility
  • Innovation for the Fatigued: How to Build a Culture of Deep Creativity
  • Reinventing the Product: How to Transform Your Business and Create Value in the Digital Age
  • The Long View: Career Strategies to Start Strong, Reach High and Go Far
  • Do Pause: You are not a To Do list
  • Getting COMFY: Your Morning Guide to Daily Happiness
  • The Bullseye Principle: Mastering Intention-Based Communication to Collaborate, Execute, and Succeed
  • Bless this Mess
  • What Philosophy Can Teach You About Being a Better Leader
  • Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships
  • Amazon: How the World's Most Relentless Retailer Will Continue to Revolutionize Commerce
  • Unlocking Creativity: How to Solve Any Problem and Make the Best Decisions by Shifting Creative Mindsets
  • Do Scale: A Road Map to Growing A Remarkable Company
  • The Geometry of Wealth: How to shape a life of money and meaning
  • The Sea Around Us
  • Underland: A Deep Time Journey
  • The Courage Habit: How to Accept Your Fears, Release the Past, and Live Your Courageous Life
  • Natural History
See similar books…
Maria Popova is a reader and a writer, and writes about what she reads on Brain Pickings (, which is included in the Library of Congress permanent digital archive of culturally valuable materials. She hosts The Universe in Verse—an annual charitable celebration of science through poetry—at the interdisciplinary cultural center Pioneer Works in Brooklyn.

Related Articles

This June, as we observe LGBTQ Pride—the annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning communities—we...
184 likes · 71 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“The richest relationships are often those that don’t fit neatly into the preconceived slots we have made for the archetypes we imagine would populate our lives—the friend, the lover, the parent, the sibling, the mentor, the muse. We meet people who belong to no single slot, who figure into multiple categories at different times and in different magnitudes. We then must either stretch ourselves to create new slots shaped after these singular relationships, enduring the growing pains of self-expansion, or petrify.” 16 likes
“History is not what happened, but what survives the shipwrecks of judgment and chance.” 14 likes
More quotes…