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In this groundbreaking book about how women perceive, are prepared for, and cope with ambition and achievement, psychiatrist Anna Fels examines ambition at the deepest psychological level. Cutting to the core of what ambition can provide—the essential elements of a fulfilling life—Fels describes why, for women but not for men, ambition still remains fraught with often painful conflict. Fels draws on case studies, research, interviews, and autobiographies of accomplished and celebrated women past and present—writers, artists, architects, politicians, actors—to explore the ways in which women are brought up to avoid recognition and visibility in favor of traditional feminine values and why they often choose to nurture and defer to rather than compete with men. She poses invaluable questions: What is the nature of ambition and how important is it in a woman’s life? What are the forces that promote or impede its development? To what extent does ambition go against a woman’s very nature? And she challenges currently held theories about the state of mind and the needs of men.
Incisive and highly readable, Necessary Dreams is a unique exploration of the options and obstacles women face in the pursuit of their goals. It is a book that every woman will want—and need—to read.
“For impassioned research and analysis, Anna Fels’s book ranks with the great feminist classics of the 1970s.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Fear of Falling and Nickel and Dimed
“Drawing on a wealth of material—literature, scientific research, interviews, and her own fascinating psychiatric practice—Fels shows that women, like men, have a drive to excel, and that for women, as for men, happiness is connected to achieving recognition for real accomplishments. Her suggestions are therapeutic gold, at once creative and realistic. Accessible, clear, conversational, this could just be the book that lets working women stop feeling guilty.”
—Katha Pollitt, author of Antarctic Traveller and Reasonable Creatures
“Necessary Dreams is fresh and original and has the qualities of a novel. As I read it, I recognized myself and many other women in its pages. This book is not only important but true.”
—Jamaica Kincaid, author of My Brother and Mr. Potter
“How wonderful to discover a book that is so important, so original, and so beautifully composed. Fels takes the issue of ambition in women’s lives and invites us to examine it from every angle. How does ambition mesh with motherhood? With marriage? With our understanding of femininity? She brings to the fore the critical role of recognition. What are girls praised for, and where do young women find encouragement? In each instance, Fels’s judgment is measured, but the cumulative effect is devastating. Necessary Dreams is a moving meditation on contemporary women and the obstacles they face.”
—Peter D. Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac and Spectacular Happiness
“A brilliant, clear-eyed, and wonderfully readable discussion of the role of ambition in women’s lives—chock-full of valuable information and insights—a book that is not to be missed.” —Maggie Scarf, author of Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage
“For men, reveling in praise is as natural as breathing, and the confidence that approval produces becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to further triumphs. Women, however, too often stuff their badges away in a drawer and, in doing so, sabotage the support that would spur them to achieve more success. Thus they cheat themselves in yet one more economy: the marketplace of accolades. Fels deserves credit for illuminating this dance of denial.” —BusinessWeek
“Remarkable . . . reframes the struggle for equality in a powerful way.” —Salon
“Necessary Dreams makes a provocative case for female ambition. It works as a feminist treatise, a study of human motivation and a how-to manual for revamping the too-often demoralizing American workplace.” —Austin American-Statesman
“Certain to trigger debate. . . . Timely, well-researched . . . practical and useful.” —Tucson Citizen
“This thoughtful and thought-provoking book will help talented women everywhere cross the last frontier—the mental barrier that prevents them from admitting their full ambition and embracing their success openly. Perhaps then it will be possible to build the right support systems for work and family, instead of expecting women to shoulder the burdens alone.” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of Men and Women of the Corporation
“What distinguishes Fels’s book from other feminist laments is the case it makes for ambition as a basic human impulse. . . . Fels has done her research.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Career women—or anyone raising smart daughters to do big things—will find a lot within [this book’s] pages to think about and discuss.” —Publishers Weekly
“There is more good sense about women’s lives in Anna Fels’s book than in anything I’ve ever read.” —Phyllis Rose, author of Parallel Lives