This would be a fan favorite here I feel. Mary Beard’s book is slim by its very nature because it’s a transcription of two speeches given before and after Brexit/Trump. And you can feel that difference when you read them. Mary Beard is apparently a public intellectual and fixture in British television. Being American, I didn’t know this, but I did know her as a prominent historian. I read SPQR and I maybe reviewed it here (I forget what year I read it), and thought it was very strong and readable. So I won’t fault the essays here for how slight and slim they come across here. Instead what is captured here more so than in other essay collections I read is that while Mary Beard’s primary expertise is not in feminist theory but in classical history, but her clear command and total ownership over reading, historical fact, and classical literature adds depth and heft to her analysis of contemporary politics. All of that turns these otherwise not totally remarkable comments into brilliant little moments.
I also think the title itself as a manifesto is not quite right. Instead, it’s more of a pair of polemics.
Also, she spends a lot of time talking about another book I will get to soon Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which speaks not only to how we understand women in power, but how we completely misunderstand the nature of power. She shows a good example that’s not all the alien to contemporary events and how we present those women. I don’t like Theresa May, but even I cringe at the way she’s treated in British media and by British leftists.
(Photograph: MMP Cambridge)