Who Cooked the Last Supper?
The Women's History of the World

by Rosalind Miles


Three Rivers Press, 2001. ISBN 0609806955.
Reviewed by Carolyn Blankenship
Posted on 02/12/2003

Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

The title grabbed me. The dedication hooked me: "For all the women of the world who have had no history." First published in 1988 as The Women's History of the World, this book overturns centuries of misconceptions and omissions to restore women to their rightbul place in history. With wit, brilliance, and no small amount of research, Rosalind Miles has given voice to the long parade of ignored, unsung, and unacknowledged women who have helped shape civilization and culture. Antonia Fraser says, "Here is the history you never learned—but should have! Who Cooked the Last Supper redefines our concept of historical reality."

Lest this sound a little too heavy, be assured that this overview of her-story is written with humor and celebrates the lives, contributions, and accomplishments of thousands of women around the world and over time. In her introduction Ms. Miles writes, "Who cooked the Last Supper? If it had been a man, wouldn't he have a saint's day by now, with a fervent following of celebrity chefs? The women who made it into the history books were so few. Where were all the rest? It was a question that would not go away. I wrote Who Cooked the Last Supper? to answer it, for myself at least. ' At last,' I boldly proclaimed, 'the hand that rocks the cradle has taken up the pen to set the record straight.' "

I felt much like another Texas reader who wrote, "Reading this book I was able, for the first time, to place the experiences of my life in a larger context of women's history." I was fascinated to read about The Age of Queens when women ruled most of world, and not as consorts, but as monarchs in their own right. I was amazed at stories of women doctors in the Middle Ages: three Jewish opthamololgists practicing in Frankfurt in the late 1300s; Marie Colinet, a Swiss midwife-surgeon in the 16th century who perfected the techniques of cesarean secton (which hadn't changed since the days of Julius), and who was the first to use a magnet to extract metal from a patient's eye (a technique still in use today) whose husband was given credit for her discovery; and the first known woman pathologist who developed a technique in 1526 for withdrawing blood and replacing it with colored dye, thus allowing the circulatory system to be studied in great detail—who died at 19. I was intrigued to learn about Catalina de Erauso who escaped from a convent and fought the Spanish all over South America in the 1600s, Flora Sandes, an English vicar's daughter who captained an infantry unit in the First World War, and the all-female crack combat battlations in World War II.

This is a book for every woman to read, digest and share with the other women in her life—especially the younger generations. It is every woman's history. As these stories rolled over me; I felt as if something long missing had finally come home.

Rosalind Miles is a well-known English novelist, essayist, lecturer, and BBC broadcaster. She is the founder of the Center for Women's Studies in England, and has written numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, the most recent of which is The Guenevere Trilogy. She divides her time between homes in England and California. Her website address is www.rosalind.net.

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