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Publisher's Summary

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 catalysed the environmental movement.

Stretching between these figures is a cast of artists, writers, and scientists - mostly women, mostly queer - whose public contribution has risen out of their unclassifiable and often heartbreaking private relationships to change the way we understand, experience and appreciate the universe. Among them are the astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science; the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, who did the same in art; the journalist and literary critic Margaret Fuller, who sparked the feminist movement; and the poet Emily Dickinson.

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: Are achievement and acclaim enough for happiness? Is genius? Is love? Weaving through the narrative is a set of peripheral figures - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman - and a tapestry of themes spanning music, feminism, the history of science, the rise and decline of religion, and how the intersection of astronomy, poetry and Transcendentalist philosophy fomented the environmental movement.

©2019 Maria Popova (P)2019 Canongate Books Ltd

What listeners say about Figuring

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 26-04-2020

Simply beautiful!

Amazing work by the author and beautiful delivery by the narrator. This book opened my heart to new worlds.

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  • Michelle
  • 03-09-2020

Uneven in places. The highs are stratospheric.

This book is uneven. In a couple of places I became bored or confused by the written equivalent of a jump cut. Overall the transcendently beautiful sections balance this out. I wept in some places. This is a drifting series of linked meditations. It works best when you just surrender and listen without asking where its going, we spent to long with Emerson & Dickinson, but was introduced to several new heroes. Easy enough to listen to Natasha McIlhone’s dulcet tones. I ended with a renewed sense of wonder & possibility.

A couple of critic reviews I found overly harsh. They seemed to blame Popova for not having written a different book, without havijg much understanding of this one. Like a good hike, bring a bit lost at times id part of the overall experience. Freed from argument, Popova free associates across her treasure trove of knowledge to highlight synchronicities and parallels to delight & amaze.

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  • tamara
  • 22-11-2019

A mingle of narratives across space and time

Popova has a deep knack for braving the interconnection between the past, present and future of ideas, artistry, melancholy and the natural world and all the people who occupy that space and time of thought and being. The book has so much depth that it highlights how layered the human experience is, in solitude, as well as togetherness. At times, I got lost with the amount of content positioned in each chapter and other times, I managed to get into flow with the capturing of history into narrative. It really gives an opening into the narrative of our daily lives, that we are all just figuring it out.

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