This is one of those tough books to rate and review, because anything I say is going to feel too harsh. Bad Girls from History is not a bad book by any means; I think there is a sizable audience out there for whom this could be an interesting and informative read. I’m just not a member of that audience. Dee Gordon’s dive into presenting 100 women who misbehaved is a little too encylopaedic, a little too dry, for me.
This book reminds me of A Strange Wilderness, in which Amir D. Aczel presents mini-biographies of many great mathematicians. I enjoyed that book, for he puts a lot of passion and enthusiasm into discussing math through these people’s lives, but I still struggled with his choice of format. The same goes for Bad Girls from History. It is definitely researched and informative; Gordon has clearly laboured over her choices of women and how to discuss them.
It just lacks that little spark, that hook, to bind everything together for me. But I can easily see that not being a problem for a different reader, so I don’t want to damn this book with faint praise.
Basically: if you want something that you can dip into, maybe read about one or two “Bad Girls” a night for a while, this book will work for you. It might give you ideas for women you could learn more about from dedicated biographies, if one exists. If you’re looking for detailed commentary that links these women’s lives into more coherent threads, or if you’re looking for analysis with a bigger picture, then you won’t find that here. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, just not quite what I was hoping for.