Thursday, March 23, 2017

BOOK: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby, 226 pages, plus 50 pages of notes, bibliography, and index

A 2013 obituary in the NYT for Yvonne Brill started with 'world's greatest mom' and followed up with describing how she made a mean beef stroganoff and followed her husband around in his work. Eventually, her work as a rocket scientist made the obit. The uproar over this lack of respect was the inspiration for this wonderful biography of 52 STEM women. Two main criteria - no longer living women, and not Marie Curie. Not disrespecting Marie Curie, she's just usually the first woman scientist, or the only one, that gets mentioned. Swaby does a great job writing, keeping things light, sometimes sarcastic but jam-packed with details, and makes this an easy to read and highly interesting book.

Some names I knew - Mary Anning, Rosalyn Franklin, Rachel Carson and because I have a poster called 'Women in Science' in my classroom, Maria Mitchell, Lise Mietner, Ada Lovelace, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and Barbara McClintock. I didn't always know the specifics of their contribution but this book filled in the gaps. The categories of study were divided into Medicine, Biology and the Environment, Genetics and Development, Physics, Earth and Stars, Math and Technology, and Invention.

Each woman gets a short (3-6 page) biography, with a little about their life, but mostly about their love of their subject, and the tenacity that was required to do the work they did. Many had to work in universities for no money because women technically weren't allowed in. Too many worked with collaborators who took the credit.

The nature of the book means that I don't remember the name and the contribution of very many of the women. Too much info for a reader like me who doesn't take in names very well. The overall effort and contributions will be remembered however. I think I would really like to have this book as a resource in my classroom, to be able to look up scientist and her work, and her challenge.