Reviews for Mother of invention : how good ideas get ignored in an economy built for men

Publishers Weekly
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Innovation takes a long time because people tend to create with only men in mind, argues journalist Marçal (Who Cooked Adam Smith Dinner) in this quirky treatise. Needs that are coded as “female” fall by the wayside as “frivolous,” she argues, which has limited the scope of invention: it took decades to put wheels on suitcases, for instance, because it was assumed that men would never be willing to appear in public using an assist, and cars powered by electricity were thought up as early as the beginning of the 20th century but were never mass-produced since they were seen as only suitable for women (men hand-cranked a starter). By telling a history of technology that includes “women’s tools,” Marçal writes, “the entire narrative we hold, both about ourselves, the economy, and the world, becomes something else”—if, for example, humans’ first tools were digging sticks rather than hunting tools, “it is no longer as clear that humanity’s inventions must always seek to crush, dominate, and exploit.” Told in a conversational tone, this feminist directive—if a little heavy on the focus of gender imperative—fascinates with its wealth of historical tidbits. Fans of Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women, take note. Agent: Katie Cacouris, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)

Library Journal
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The latest book by Swedish journalist Marçal (Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?) discusses women's roles in—and rejection from—the history of technological invention; it's similar in scope to Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung's The Second Shift or Caroline Criado Perez's Invisible Women. Marçal effectively demonstrates that systemic misogyny in capitalist frameworks not only impacts individual women but also impairs a society's ability to advance in innovative and productive ways. Her at-once anecdotal and theoretical book seeks to understand what's lost when women's social contributions are limited, as well as ways to move toward a new model. The author's writing shines when she addresses perceptions of women throughout history; she particularly carefully unpacks how Black and brown women have historically been restricted and misrepresented, and the misconceptions that endure. Marçal proposes that "we stop ignoring women and what we have decided women are to represent" and reframe societal narratives about women and their place in the world. She draws on a range of primary and secondary sources for her interdisciplinary critique of literature, sociology, and anthropology, and calls on practitioners in those fields to work toward equality. VERDICT A must-read.—Emily Bowles, Lawrence Univ., WI

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

In this breezy read, Swedish journalist Marçal (Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? 2016) explores the ways in which gender biases curtail or direct innovation and thus shape our collective futures. Each chapter uses an animating story—for example, one about the women seamstresses who sewed the spacesuits worn by the Apollo 11 astronauts—to offer free-flowing ruminations on patriarchy, economics, and invention. One chapter highlights the case of Aina Wifalk, a Swedish polio survivor who commissioned the invention of the rollator (an assistive device), to consider how the financial system “systematically excludes women’s ideas.” Marçal focuses less on women inventors and entrepreneurs than she does on socialized assumptions about what sorts of behaviors are masculine or feminine and the kinds of activities that are recognized as inventions in the first place. “Who gets to play a part in inventing our world?” she asks. “And who doesn’t? And what is the cost to us all?” Marçal offers lively, if anecdotal and occasionally impressionistic, answers. But those questions, and others she asks like them, are important ones.