Life Lessons From 29 Hero­ines Who Dared to Break the Rules

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Women’s Voices -

Karen Karbo, Ch­eryl Strayed (Con­trib­u­tor), Na­tional Geo­graphic (FE­BRU­ARY), Hard­cover $26 (352pp), 978-1-4262-1774-6

Karen Karbo’s In Praise of Dif­fi­cult Women col­lects twenty-nine bi­o­graph­i­cal pro­files of women who have pushed back, bro­ken the mold, or sim­ply lived on their own terms. The women cho­sen are eclec­tic, while the nar­ra­tive is re­searched and in­formed, yet con­ver­sa­tion­ally wel­com­ing.

Among Karbo’s dis­tinc­tive ros­ter are icons like Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, and Josephine Baker, and po­lit­i­cal forces Eva Perón, An­gela Merkel, and Hil­lary Clin­ton. Avi­a­tion pioneer Amelia Earhart is in­cluded, as well as writer Martha Gell­horn, whose per­ilous work as a war cor­re­spon­dent was prefer­able to her than her com­bat­ive mar­riage to Ernest Hem­ing­way.

Karbo’s fond­ness for rule break­ers and ben­ders is clear, and she de­fends them through char­ac­ter quirks and mis­steps—real women lead real and flawed lives. Cer­tain pro­files have ex­tra verve, such as that of Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg, who at eighty-five still works out in the Supreme Court gym, wears stylish col­lars to ac­ces­sorize her for­mal black robe, and is bril­liant yet ac­ces­si­ble enough to merit the nick­name No­to­ri­ous RBG.

Karbo’s Janis Jo­plin is feisty and poignant—not a “dul­cet” 1960s folk songstress, but more of a “mon­ster truck with a bro­ken muf­fler haul­ing ass down a … South­ern road.” Car­rie Fisher is also fea­tured, her wit, vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and ex­cess far more in­trigu­ing than her eter­nally hyped Princess Leia of Star Wars role.

Though the list is di­verse, a com­mon trait among Karbo’s forth­right fe­males is be­ing true to one’s soul—for bet­ter or worse, but gen­er­ally bet­ter. In Praise of Dif­fi­cult Women of­fers many words of wis­dom, in­clud­ing sage ad­vice from fash­ion ti­tan Diana Vree­land, who noted that the only right life to live is “the one you know you want, and you make it for your­self.”

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