Monday, July 6, 2015

Headstrong by Rachel Swaby, 2015

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In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?
Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

(288 pages)

I'm not the biggest fan of science as a subject. The only science class I ever truly enjoyed was last year's AP Environmental Science, in large part just because I had a great teacher.To put it another way: in a hundred years, no one is going to put me in a list of women who contributed to science. Thus I requested Headstrong with a few reservations about my suitability for the book.

I needn't have worried. Because this isn't a chemistry textbook; it's a photo album; A photo album in words of women who did their part to change the world of science forever. Full of anecdotes, quotes, and career sketches, Headstrong contains written snapshots of different people who accomplished amazing things, often despite seemingly impossible odds.

And my disinterest in science is more than made up for by my love for people. I love to study individuals: their emotions and their surroundings and how they handled the challenges that faced them. All of history (my favorite subject in school!) is a tale of individuals doing amazing things, both good and bad, in ways that ripple through time. Headstrong is like a mini-history book, a snapshot of 52 different women whose accomplishments rippled through all of pop culture as well as the world of science.

By the end of the book the snippets begin to feel a bit repetitive, mainly because they're all so short they only focus on a few key features of each scientist's life. I think Headstrong would have been an even more fascinating read if it had gone into less scientists in more depth, instead of more scientists in less depth. But then, Headstrong is supposed to be a collection of snapshots, a sampling of sorts to introduce people to a wide variety of women scientists who made huge contributions to science. They're not supposed to be comprehensive portraits, they're just supposed to provide starting points for people to discover scientists they can read more about on their own. And as a sampler, a photo album, a compilation of sketches, and every other metaphor I've thrown around in this review, Headstrong is perfect for learning about some of the biggest players in modern science.

Even though I still don't like studying science. Oh, well.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the Blogging For Books program in exchange for an honest review.

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