Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World, by Rachel Swaby (2014)

Age 13 to Adult
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the WorldSure, we`ve all heard of Marie Curie, but in truth she is only one of dozens of women who have made Nobel-worthy contributions to science over the past three and a half centuries. Some of them earned a Nobel nod; but many others have been snubbed the honour. Rachel Swaby seeks to change all that, bringing their stories to the fore in this collection of 52 brief biographies (an average of 5 pages each). And they are inspiring stories indeed. She details the nasty post-mortem treatment of geneticist Rosalind Franklin by Nobel winner James Watson (half of DNA’s Watson & Crick), and she also examines the evidence of intellectual theft of Franklin’s work that led the two men to their discovery (p. 113). Among the several chemists included are France’s Marguerite Perey, who, in 1939 at age 29, discovered the long-sought Element 87 which has a halflife of 20 minutes (p. 143), as well as American Stephanie Kwolek, who originally intended to be a fashion designer but created the stronger than steel fabric now known as Kevlar (p. 221). And my personal favourite, Maria Mitchell a 19th-century librarian by day and astronomer by night who was the first American to discover a comet, leading eventually to a teaching post at Vassar, where she caused a ruckus insisting on changing the curfew for female students so they could actually look at the night skies they were studying (p. 157). Astronaut Sally Ride, public health’s Florence Nightingale, Canadian rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, biologist and catalyst for the environmental movement Rachel Carson – their stories and many more are carefully researched, and brought to vivid life with key details about their scientific contributions, the challenges they faced along the way, and how they refused to let others’ view of their gender stop them from pursuing their passions. An excellent set of endnotes backs up Swaby’s work, though the advance reading copy I received lacked an index, I’m sorry to report. Readers will, however, appreciate the solid bibliography, as the too-brief entries will surely lead them to seek more information of these women’s work. While its primary market will be the teen reader, this collection will intrigue adults and is accessible to sophisticated younger readers as well. My thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy, in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this title: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22856166


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