The Brass Notebook

A Memoir of Feminism and Freedom

The lyrical and globe-spanning memoir by the influential feminist economist, with introductory pieces from two American icons

“Your heart and world will be opened by reading The Brass Notebook, the intimate and political life of Devaki Jain, a young woman who dares to become independent.” —Gloria Steinem

When she was barely thirty, the Indian feminist economist Devaki Jain befriended Doris Lessing, Nobel winner and author of The Golden Notebook, who encouraged Jain to write her story. Over half a century later, Jain has crafted what Desmond Tutu has called “a riveting account of the life story of a courageous woman who has all her life challenged what convention expects of her.”

Across an extraordinary life intertwined with those of Iris Murdoch, Gloria Steinem, Julius Nyerere, Henry Kissinger, and Nelson Mandela, Jain navigated a world determined to contain her ambitions. While still a young woman, she traveled alone across the subcontinent to meet Gandhi’s disciple Vinoba Bhave, hitchhiked around Europe in a sari, and fell in love with a Yugoslav at a Quaker camp in Saarbrücken. She attended Oxford University, supporting herself by washing dishes in a local café. Later, over the course of an influential career as an economist, Jain seized on the cause of feminism, championing the poor women who labored in the informal economy long before mainstream economics attended to questions of inequality.

With a foreword by Nobel Prize–winning economist Amartya Sen and an introduction by the well-known American feminist Gloria Steinem, whose own life and career were inspired by time spent with Jain, The Brass Notebook perfectly merges the political with the personal—a book full of life, ideas, politics, and history.


“[Jain] is vigilant about showing how freedom is fought for constantly, as a way of being despite the constraints of society, but also contingent on luck, opportunity and the social structures of privilege.”
India Today
“Jain debuts with a stirring account of her coming-of-age in southern India and her career as a feminist economist. . . . Readers will be enlightened.”
Publishers Weekly
“An engaging chronicle of defiance and determination.”
Kirkus Reviews
The Brass Notebook is a portrait of a past that feels golden, filled with idealism, grit and hope.”
The Hindustan Times
“[The Brass Notebook] brings out, in [the author’s] own charming style, the empathy that has characterized her distinctive approach to economics and social sciences more generally, and enriched that work.”
Telegraph India
“Jain witnessed, and offers through the lens of her particular, ‘game for anything’ perspective, some of the defining moments in the shaping of India as a nation of impossible contradictions and courageous hope.”
The Hindu

News and Reviews

The New Press Blog

Learn more about Devaki Jain and read an excerpt from her memoir The Brass Notebook on The New Press Blog.

Publishers Weekly

Read a review of Devaki Jain's The Brass Notebook in Publishers Weekly.

Goodreads Reviews