McCarthy assembles an inestimable quantity of detail here. This is an important book. It is also a boring book. ‘It is not the historian’s job to reveal essential truths about women’s desires, past or present,’ she writes in the conclusion, ‘or to generalise about paid work as either “good” or “bad”.’ This simply means that the book lacks an honestly articulated argument (it would be perverse to maintain that such a history takes paid work as anything other than a good overall). All the same, Double Lives is a forceful reminder that attitudes to working mothers change abruptly and that politics, not nature, will decide the future of female employment.