A Critical Woman

A Critical Woman is Ann Oakley’s full-length biography of Barbara Wootton.


Table of Contents
Foreword by Tessa Blackstone
Introduction: Writing a Life of Barbara Wootton
 1. Ladies of the House
 2. A Cat Called Plato
 3. Alma Mater
 4. Jack
 5. Cambridge Distinctions
 6. Real Work
 7. Fact and Fiction
 8. George
 9. Planning for Peace
10. Lament for Economics
11. Testament for Social Science
12. The Nuffield Years, and Vera
13. High Barn, and the Other Barbara
14. Crime and Penal Policy
15. Madam Speaker
16. Incurable Patient
17. In the World She Never Made
Select Bibliography

‘Why is Barbara Wootton not widely remembered today, given her manifest achievements in so many spheres? In asking this question Ann Oakley never quite finds the answer, but she certainly convinces me that Barbara Wootton deserves a greater place in the history of Britain in the twentieth century than she has been given’, Baroness Blackstone.

‘This is a compelling story of the life and achievements of one of the foremost social scientists of the 20th century…It would make a great film’, Professor Graham Crow.

‘An engrossing and vivid account of a remarkable woman, undeservedly forgotten, who is rightly “recovered” for us in this fine biography, which is richly detailed, elegantly written, and meticulously researched. This biography is in the very best sense a Life and Times -  the fascinating and highly readable story of a pioneering woman, whose pivotal work across a huge field of social policy is explored in and through debates and controversies that spanned 60 years', Baroness Hollis.

Audio recording of the book launch of A Critical Woman. House of Lords 8 June 2011.

Jane Garvey interviews Ann Oakley about A Critical Woman. Woman's Hour, BBC 4, 7th June 2011.

Kira Cochrane interviews Ann Oakley about A Critical Woman for the Guardian, 8 July 2011.


Read the reviews
'This immensely readable biography combines the personal story of an outstanding public person with the intellectual story of social research in the past century. It rescues from oblivion a woman social scientist who, like so many of her generation, unstintingly devoted her life to improving social knowledge, only to be forgotten by new waves of political and intellectual fashions. Unputdownable!'
E. Stina Lyon, Times Higher Education, 4 August 2011.
'Barbara Wootton's life of public engagement was remarkable ... Ann Oakley describes how [her] conviction that the economic and the social must be integrated led Wootton towards sociology ... Oakley shows too how Wootton pierced through received views of propriety with a resolute sense of personal justice.'
Sheila Rowbotham, Times Higher Education, 1 September 2011.
'This thoughtful, warm biography gives Barbara Wootton (a ‘fairy godmother’ to the 1945 Labour government) her due recognition while serving as an inspiration to thinkers and politicians alike.'
Dianne HayterProgress Online, 8 September 2011.
'It is impossible to do justice to such a life committed to the common good, and to the injustice that it should be so ill-remembered...and Ann Oakley's book does an excellent job of surveying and analysing it at manageable length... few historians could match her grasp of the history of the social sciences.'
Pat Thane, Twentieth Century British History, 24 September 2011.
'Who? Who? Who? Ann Oakley opens her majestic biography of Barbara Wootton with this bold and repeated question, but it is a question with a double edge. Baroness Wootton of Abinger was extraordinary, yet today, little remembered. In this puzzle, Ann Oakley finds a perfect biographee-shaped hole. And, through filling that hole, she makes an excellent case for biography as a form of historical research.'
Margaretta Jolly, Reviews in History, 14 March 2013
'It is a full and fascinating account of an outstanding woman, placed in the history of her era and its politics and culture too. Anyone interested in the development of social policy, or the criminal justice system should read it.'
Frances Heidensohn, British Journal of Sociology, 12 March 2013 
'This book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the past 100 years and the principles of freedom, justice and equality which guided Barbara Wootton throughout her life.'
Sarah Dawes, Camden New Journal, 3 November 2011
'A Critical Woman is an excellent contribution to the history of social science and public policy in Britain and is accessible to a general public as well as to specialised readers. It also invites further analysis of the role of women intellectuals in modern Britain.'
Ellen Jacobs, Journal of Social Policy, 17 July 2012
'This is undoubtedly a major biography of an important figure, and admirably succeeds in rescuing Wootton’s life from an unjust obscurity.'
Jim Tomlinson, The Economic History Review, February 2013
'Just as A Critical Woman weaves the individual and the social, the personal and the professional, so does it hover between the academic and the popular. It reads smoothly, proceeds chronologically and argues clearly.'
Tamara Micner, 18 March 2012.