There are hundreds of specialist career books out there, all promising that they can get you the career you want. But, what if you don’t find yourself imbued with that crystal-clear sense of vocation so many other contemporaries seem to have? Other people’s working lives, those that have broken the mould or achieved against the odds, people who have just tried to do something a little bit different is what gets me feeling inspired and leaves me humming with a hope that with hard work and a little bit of luck anything might be possible.

And so, as I scoured the shelves at my local bookshop searching for inspiration, Rachel Cooke’s Her Brilliant Career; Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties seemed to catapult itself off the shelves.

What is it all about?

Cooke is an award-winning journalist and this is her first book. In it she takes the common misconception that the ‘fifties woman’ is synonymous with cupcakes, rollers and a Mad Men-styled waist, and turns it on its head. It is a compelling and entertaining read.

Is it worth the read?

After a rip-roaring introduction where Cooke’s passion and interest for her topic is palpable, she presents ten brief biographies of her chosen women whose lives, read separately or as a whole, present a compelling slice of social history.

They are an eclectic bunch, from Rose Heilbron QC, who became Britain’s youngest woman barrister; to the architect Alison Smithson and her new brutalism which she juggled with three children; through to the likes of the gorgeous Patience Gray; cookery writer, traveller, free spirit. The book has an effective formula; each biography commences with an attention-grabbing anecdote, and then romps through the subject’s life, with the odd pause for Cooke’s intuitive observations and engaging wit.

The addition of the timeline is useful for context and keeps your eyes peeled for a rather juicy bibliography of some “Good and Richly Subversive novels by Women” at the end. This is an illuminating read. As Cooke writes: “These are, above all, tales of derring-do. Records will be broken, and hearts.”


Published By: Virago ISBN: 978 1844087419

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Caroline Woodward-Court

Caroline is Khoollect's resident book reviewer. This lady has had her noses in books since she can r...

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