In her foreword to this first volume of a four-volume work, Atwood writes that women "are not a footnote" to history, but rather "the necessary center around which the wheel of power revolves." That is the view that novelist and memoirist French (The Women's Room) satisfyingly supports. As in any survey, much of this volume reads schematically ("For 99 percent of hominid and human existence, people lived in egalitarian matricentry"), and like many historians, French has an agenda-but she backs up even her more controversial theories with an impressive accumulation of academically accepted historical, anthropological and sociological sources. French covers her material vividly as she discusses the formation of the gendered state in Peru, Egypt, Sumer and China and then surveys the differences between the formation of secular and religious states. The volume ends with a detailed analysis of the position of women in early Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and it's here that French's precise methodology really comes to life, though some will debate her interpretations. Written in concise, understated language, this is a significant addition to literature on women's studies and history. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Eve to Dawn, A History of Women in the World: Origins: From Prehistory to the First Millenniumby Marilyn French, Margaret Atwood
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Origins is the first of four volumes of a momental, readable, and unprecedented history of women throughout the world. The internationally celebrated author of The Women's Room, Marilyn French, spent over fifteen years with a team of researchers and prominent historians examining women's lives and activities in civilizations and societies spanning the ages.
Beginning in prehistory, Origins moves on to examine women's lives in ancient Egypt, China, India, Peru, Mexico, Greece, and Rome. In her reconstruction of wars, laws, and other activities affecting both women and men, French also traces the worldviews underpinning them. In accessible writing for a broad readership, three chapters depict how women's relationship to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam changed for good and bad over the centuries.
French's history of women, originally published in Canada in 2003, takes the reader on a tour of the global subordination of women from prehistory to the present. In the foreword, Margaret Atwood declares that reading this critical compendium will incite women to feel "horror and growing anger" as they begin to grasp the true nature and scope of their oppression by men. French (The Women's Room) endeavors to demonstrate how the origins of civilization, the state, and patriarchy are all one and the same. Though some may accuse her of offering an oversimplified account of what amounts to 10,000 years of human social evolution, this fundamental claim is one that no social scientist would deny, and it is further bolstered by French's use of primary sources whenever possible. She also draws on extensive academic research in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and history to argue that a matriarchal civilization has never really existed. She notes that wherever hierarchy and social stratification exist, with a few sourced exceptions, those with all the power and property have almost always been male.
As in feminist historian Gerda Lerner's groundbreaking The Creation of Patriarchy, French sets out to account for what happened. While Lerner focused only on the ancient antecedents of Western civilization, French also looks at state formation in China, India, Mexico, and Peru as well as addressing the worldviews of the Greeks, Romans, and the entire Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. The second volume follows with an analysis of the patriarchal social practices of Europe from the Dark Ages into the Enlightenment, including chapters on how the domination of womenessentially set the stage for European imperialism and subsequent domination of native peoples in Africa and the Americas. French gives us grand theory at its best, wading through copious amounts of scholarly data on the histories of civilizations and offering up, in readable prose, an important synthesis of what an earlier generation of feminists called "herstory." Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.
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Meet the Author
Marilyn French (1929-2009) was born in New York. She received her PhD from Harvard and taught English at Hofstra, Harvard, and Holy Cross College. She is best known for her novels, The Women's Room and In the Name of Friendship, and her non-fiction works, including Beyond Power, The War against Women and her memoir, A Season in Hell.
Margaret Atwood's most popular works include The Handmaid's Tale (1983) and The Blind Assassin (2000). She was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1939, and received her undergraduate degree from Victoria University, along with a master's degree from Radcliffe College.
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