Headstrong Paperback – 15 May 2015
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"Swaby tells the scientists' stories with energy and clarity. Refreshingly, spouses and children are mentioned only when relevant--and the book is recipe-free."
--New York Times Book Review
--Wall Street Journal "[A] collection of brisk, bright biographies."
--The Washington Post "Rachel Swaby's no-nonsense and needed Headstrong dynamically profiles historically overlooked female visionaries in science, technology, engineering, and math."
--Elle "A woman revolutionized heart surgery. A woman created the standard test given to all newborns to determine their health. A woman was responsible for some of the earliest treatments of previously terminal cancers. We shouldn't need to be reminded of their names, but we do. With a deft touch, Rachel Swaby has assembled an inspiring collection of some of the central figures in twentieth century science. Headstrong is an eye-opening, much-needed exploration of the names history would do well to remember, and Swaby is a masterful guide through their stories."
--Maria Konnikova, Contributing New Yorker writer and New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes "Rachel Swaby's fine, smart look at women in science is a much-needed corrective to the record--a deftly balanced field guide to the overlooked (Hilde Mangold), the marginalized (Rosalind Franklin), the unexpected (Hedy Lamarr), the pioneering (Ada Lovelace), and the still-controversial (Rachel Carson). Swaby reminds us that science, like the rest of life, is a team sport played by both genders."
--William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore and Under a Wild Sky "Headstrong is a true gem. So many amazing women have had an incredible impact on STEM fields, and this book gives clear, concise, easy-to-digest histories of 52 of them--there's no longer an excuse for not being familiar with our math and science heroines. Thank you, Rachel!"
--Danica McKellar, actress and New York Times bestselling author of Math Doesn't Suck "Swaby's exuberant portrayals make this a compulsively readable title. There is no good reason why every single woman here is not a household name, and now, thankfully, Swaby is helping rectify history's oversight."
--Booklist "Swaby celebrates barrier-breaking titans... [and] has collected an inspiration master list of women in science with accessible explanations of their work."
--Publishers Weekly "Although many of these women may not be familiar names outside their courses of study, the author's spadework should bring them to the forefront, allowing the general public to learn about the females who pushed beyond sexist attitudes to undertake and achieve success in a male-dominated arena. These short accounts should inspire girls who want to study science to follow their dreams....succinct and informative."
--Kirkus Reviews "[W]omen just don't get the encouragement they need and deserve to pursue careers in science. Here's a handy book to help encourage young women to put themselves on the scitech path, with profiles of 52 women from Nobel Prize winners to major innovators and more who have made a difference in science."
About the Author
Rachel Swaby is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Runner's World, Wired, O, The Oprah Magazine, New Yorker.com, Afar, and others. She is a senior editor at Longshot magazine, the editor-in-chief of The Connective: Issue 1, a former research editor at Wired, and a past presenter at Pop-Up magazine. She lives in Brooklyn.www.rachelswaby.com
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However, I would take seriously the authors recommendation to read one chapter a week because it did get a bit dull skipping from one person to the next near the end of the book.
Plus, I would say it was very european and american centric. Surely there were fantastic scientists in asia, africa and the middle east? or even canada for gods sake?? So yeah, a brilliant book but her breadth could probably have been better.
Come on girls get reading up on these modern or relatively modern heroines of science and put them up there with the men.
With regard to Lamarr, born Hedwig Eva Kiesler in Vienna in 1914, she was among the most popular film stars in the 1930s through the 1950s but, as Swaby points out, she and George Antheil developed a frequency-hopping technology that was a much better way to guide torpedoes. "Lamarr's ideas paved the way for a myriad of technologies, including wireless cash registers, bar code readers, and home control systems, to name a few. While she had a long career as a celebrated actress, Lamarr finally got the full recognition she deserved when she was awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1997. Her response: 'It's about time.'" Of course, her contributions during World War Two were classified and her key insight was not revealed until 1976 -- "thirty-five years after Lamarr patented it."
Here's a representative selection, a "sampler," of biographical details among those of greatest interest to me:
o Charlotte Auerbach (1899-1994) realized that, to understand a gene, she needed to understand its mutation. "Just a few mustard-gas burns and some lab work later, and Auerbach was at the top of the field, the so-called mother of mutagenesis."
o Anne McLaren (1927-2007) not only proved in vitro fertilization was possible, "but years later, she was also responsible for safely and ethically guiding it into the world."
o Marguerite Perey was the first woman elected to the French Academy of Sciences (before Madame Curie) in recognition of her development of a new radioactive element, #87, that "filled an empty square in the periodic table's alkali metal group, and completed the table's spaces for naturally occurring elements."
o Chien-Shung Wu (1912-1997): When the results of her experiments in radioactivity to coax the K-meson into an observable state were announced, "an article in the New York Post gushed, 'This small modest woman was powerful enough to do what armies can never accomplish: she helped destroy a law of nature."
o Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of Lord Byron and received what was in her time a superb education. Her research notes helped Charles Babbage to develop his "Difference Engine" and then his "Analytical Engine," providing what amounts to programming code for two of the earliest computers.
o Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014): Her preparation of the cold-spun threads (kevlar, developed in the DuPont labs) "launched a brand-new area of research around liquid crystalline polymers."
Throughout the history of science, most breakthroughs have been the result of cross-functional, often cross-generational collaboration. The 52 scientists on whom Swaby focuses would be among the first to acknowledge the value of what they learned from others as well as the value of what their associates contributed to the given process eventual success, to reveal, for example, the complex structures of biochemical substances (Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin) or to calm the temperament of the arc light (Hertha Ayrton).
Rachel Swaby urges her reader to learn about those whose research "jump-started the Environmental Protection Agency, who discovered the wrinkle-free cotton, and even those whose ingenious score has now saved generations of struggling newborns."
If you are a young woman who aspires to gain an education and then pursue a career in one of the STEM disciplines or is now embarked upon that journey, I urge you to read and then re-read this book and leave the final comment in this brief commentary to one of my personal heroines, Helen Keller: ""Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."