Figuring Book Summary - Figuring Book explained in key points
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Figuring summary

Maria Popova

An exploration of the surprising connections between historical figures

4.2 (78 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

Figuring by Maria Popova is a biography of forgotten women who shaped our world and the unconventional love story of scientists Margaret and Emmanuel.

Table of Contents

    Summary of 8 key ideas

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    Human fates are interwoven, across time and space, in an ever-expanding web.

    If you picture your own life story, and those of others, as straight lines, moving only forwards, then you have the wrong idea. In reality, our lives and collective histories branch out in myriad different directions, in an infinitely connected web. We intersect with other people and things in unimaginable ways.

    One reason we overlook this complex web is that we fail to recall how we’re all fundamentally connected. Everything that exists is made of the same star stuff. Everything. From every idea that Albert Einstein had to the preservatives that keep his brain floating in its jar. From every cell of Galileo’s pointing finger to the molecules of gas and dust that form the rings of Jupiter. From the opening notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony to the sound of a voice you love. All of it exploded into being with the Big Bang, from a single source, 13.8 billion years ago.

    If we know this essential truth, why do we think of ourselves as completely distinct, separate, atomised? For instance, some of us become so focused on personal development that we forget that we are also shaped in important ways by other people in our lives. Indeed, the poet Walt Whitman knew how connected we are when he wrote: “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

    Our great ideas and advancements, in art, science and philosophy, didn’t evolve separately, but through great webs of connectedness. Many of these connections are invisible and barely traced. 

    And many of the ideas that bloomed into revolutions or shifts of understanding first developed in obscurity, gestating over many ages, between different disciplines. Collecting like individual drops of water along different channels, they eventually made a great torrent. 

    This is best exemplified by the struggles for equality between races, genders, classes, and sexualities. Pioneers like the first American astronomer Maria Mitchell or early abolitionist Frederick Douglass sparked movements that, over the course of history, contributed to great change, affecting causes far beyond their own.

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    What is Figuring about?

    Figuring (2019) traces the intricate web that connects important figures from human history, from German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and inventor Nikola Tesla to America’s first female astronomer Maria Mitchell and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. These blinks pick up the tapestry of these different lives, trace the impact that they had on the course of history, and reveal the secret driving force that unites them all.

    Figuring Review

    Figuring (2019) is a thought-provoking exploration of the interconnected lives of brilliant women throughout history. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It unveils the untold stories and lesser-known achievements of remarkable women, illuminating their impact on science, art, and society.
    • Interweaving biography, science, and philosophy, this book offers a multidisciplinary approach that broadens our understanding of the world and our place in it.
    • With its lyrical prose and philosophical reflections, Figuring captivates readers, sparking curiosity and inspiring deeper contemplation on life's mysteries.

    Best quote from Figuring

    No one ever knows, nor therefore has the grounds to judge, what goes on between two people...

    —Maria Popova
    example alt text

    Who should read Figuring?

    • Voracious readers across all genres
    • Poets who love science
    • Scientists who love poetry

    About the Author

    Maria Popova is a Bulgarian-born American author famous for her blog Brain Pickings, which features her diverse writing on books, art, philosophy, and culture. She has served as an MIT “Futures of Entertainment” Fellow, as the editorial director at the higher education social network Lore, and has written for The Atlantic, Wired UK, and The New York Times.

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    Figuring FAQs 

    What is the main message of Figuring?

    The main message of Figuring is an exploration of the lives and work of forgotten women who shaped science, literature, and art.

    How long does it take to read Figuring?

    The reading time for Figuring varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Figuring a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Figuring is definitely worth reading. It offers a fascinating perspective on forgotten historical figures and their impact on society and culture.

    Who is the author of Figuring?

    Figuring is written by Maria Popova.

    What to read after Figuring?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Figuring, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Great Thinkers by The School of Life
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
    • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
    • Time Smart by Ashley Whillans
    • Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom
    • Bedtime Biography: Edison by Edmund Morris
    • An Elegant Defense by Matt Richtel
    • Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven