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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 64.
- Review Date: 2008-03-24
- Reviewer: Staff
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)