Angles of Reflection

Joan L. Richards, Author
Joan L. Richards, Author W.H. Freeman & Company $23.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7167-3831-2
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-7167-9461-5
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Richards, a professor of the history of science at Brown, was looking forward to a long-anticipated sabbatical when her nine-year-old son developed a seizure disorder. Putting aside her own work, upon which her chance for a promotion rested, Richards saw Ned through successful brain surgery before resuming plans to bring her family to Berlin, where she had been granted a prestigious fellowship. Another medical emergency soon arose, however, and Richards spent the entire stay in Germany worried about Ned's increasingly complex prognosis and negotiating the labyrinthine medical system. These frustrations led her to question the validity of the Victorian models of thinking that were to have been the core of her research project. ""My understanding was coming apart at the seams,"" she writes in this gripping memoir. ""My experience was making me a traitor to [the] world where the public and private were sharply defined and not to be mixed. I had lost [Victorian scientists'] clear understanding of the real and the unreal."" When Ned finally recovered, Richards produced not the expected scholarly study on 19th century probabilistic thought but this personal account of how her private experience deepened her understanding of her academic specialty. A gifted writer, Richards is at her best in describing her fears for her son and the conflicting demands of career and motherhood. Although it's surprising that she never really challenges the power structure that expects her to produce work at any cost, her memoir is an exceptionally articulate study of how we deal with what we cannot control. Agent, Sally Brady. (May)
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