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Headstrong | Rachel Swaby | Reviewed by Rachel

*Image and review copy c/o Blogging for Books

Swaby has collected information on, and written mini-biographies for, 52 women whose contributions to math and science helped us all to better understand the world we live in.

This book covers the lifespans of women ranging from 1647 (Maria Sibylla Merian) to 2014 (Stephanie Kwolek). It is almost impossible to read this book without learning, not just about each woman, but also about the science she worked on and at least some the history of her time-period. This book is highly informative and well researched, as any book on scientists should be. However, Swaby is also able to bring in an emotional aspect that does not distract from the science of the contributions. Most of the emotions involved are anger at the unfairness of women not being paid for their work or not being given actual lab space despite their well demonstrated abilities. I also appreciate Swaby including other emotions, like love, “When [Gerty] could no longer make the trek from one room in the lab to the other, [her husband] scooped her up and carried her, working together until the end.” (Pg. 18) But the biggest feeling you get from this book is the dedication these women have to science. Be it because they love science itself or they love the mental stimulation, it is impossible not to pick up on this.

I was personally amazed at just how many women were involved in science that I’ve never heard about, especially given their major contributions. Alice Ball found a way for oil based, injectable medicines to be easily absorbed by the body. Hedy Lamarr gave us the foundation for Wi-Fi. How did I not know about these women before? I also appreciated that Swaby did not include a mini-biography about Marie Curie “[b]ecause Marie Curie is who we talk about when we talk about women in science…” (Pg. xiii) We all know her. This book was created for the lesser known, yet incredibly influential, women scientists.

Not only is Headstrong well researched, it’s well written. Swaby is unable to give any one scientist more than 6 pages due to the sheer number of people. Yet I found this to be a perfect way to read this book. I am introduced to each scientist, their work, and their life in a very succinct yet still meaningful manner. Because of this, the reader never feels bored or bogged down by facts.

I happily recommend this book to anyone with even an inkling of interest in science, history of science, or women’s studies.  You will have a good time reading this book.

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