Monday, July 6, 2015

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World

Title:  Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World
Author:  Rachel Swaby
Publication Information:  Broadway Books. 2015. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0553446797 / 978-0553446791

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Blogging for Books.

Opening Sentence:  "This book about scientists began with beef stroganoff."

Favorite Quote:  "The idea of 'women and science' is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientists or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view." (quote attributed to inventor and physicist Hertha Ayrton)

The Apgar score for assessing newborns. A viable treatment for leprosy. Communication technology that forms the basis of today's GPS technology. Discovery of the world's first ichthyosaur fossil. The first American discovery of a comet and its orbit. Behind all these scientific discoveries are amazing scientists who dedicated their lives to their work. Amazing scientists who happen to be women. Amazing scientists who often struggled and who often did not get credit for their work because they were women.

The introduction of the book is clear as to its purpose. Its aim is to provide a breadth of knowledge about the contribution of scientists who were women. It takes a survey approach to introducing readers to fifty-two scientists. Each scientist's life and contributions is individually captured in a brief sketch, only a few pages long. Each individual sketch, in a few pages, presents some highlights of the scientist's career and some of challenges she faced as a woman in science. Should you want to learn more, the book provides notes and a bibliography listing a variety of additional resources organized by the name of the scientist as they appear in the book; the book unfortunately does not include any pictures of these scientists. It would be lovely to have a face to match the name, and I find myself looking up those images as I read.

The author does not claim an exhaustive list of scientists but rather applies the following criteria for inclusion in the book:
  • "Their ideas, discoveries, and insights made earth-shaking changes to the way we see the world."
  • "Narrative [the story of a scientist beyond her career] needed to be the twin pillar of achievement."
  • "The book includes only scientists whose life's work has already been completed."
The notable exception to these criteria is Marie Curie, who is not included in this book because she is such an iconic representation of women in science. This book seeks to address those not as well known.

With these clear expectations, the book jumps in to individual biographical sketches. The fifty-two scientists are grouped by major area of work:  medicine, biology and the environment, genetics and development, physics, earth and stars, math and technology, and invention. Within each section, the sketches are organized chronologically by the birth year of the scientist. I recognize some names. For many more, I recognize the scientific achievement but not the scientists behind them. I am sorry to say that this book has many names I do not know. That perhaps reinforces the author's premise that so many of these scientists have not gotten the recognition they deserve for their work. A short sketch is just enough to be introduced to them.

The book sets clear expectations on what it is - an introduction to the work of 52 amazing scientists - and what it is not - a detailed biography of any one scientist. It then proceeds to deliver concisely and precisely on those expectations. As such, it is a great resource "as girls in science look around for role models" or as anyone wishes for inspiration for scientific endeavors.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

1 comment:

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