Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World
By: Rachel Swabyis
Broadway Books, April 7, 2015
There’s a phrase we use here at McDAY called “creatively scientific”. It’s our way of adding personality to our science-speak.
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World, by Rachel Swabyis a non-fiction novel that demonstrates “creatively scientific” quite well. The 52 women scientists in this novel are introduced as scientists first, but as people with feelings too. Many of them are the first female student at a university, the first female chemist at a lab, the first female biologist at a magazine, and various other “firsts” in their fields. For example, did you know that an African American woman was one of the first pioneers in cancer research and was commended for her early contributions to chemotherapy? That woman, Doctor Jane Wright, was also one of the first African-American graduates of Harvard Medical School and later went on to co-found the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
In all, the novel is an easy read with a cheerful and optimistic tone throughout. This book would be a wonderful required reading in high school chemistry, as it perfectly exemplifies the difficulties that a lot of female scientists face in school today. Female scientists have braved intense opposition in the sexist society of 20th-century America, and their difficulties have not come to an end quite yet. In Headstrong, Swaby demonstrates how many male scientists are credited for the discoveries made by the female scientists. So for every young girl who is struggling to be a female scientist in a male-dominated field and for every woman who has trouble publishing her research, this book can assure her that she is not alone.
I must remind readers that this book is not just for women. The thesis of this book examines a much deeper problem in the scientific community. There is a reason why we are beginning to see more female scientists than ever and the women are to thanks for that change. However, this doesn’t mean that the struggle for women scientists is over. Pretentious professors, traditional parents, and intentionally and unintentionally sexist recruiters still exist. Frankly, anyone who says that this book is only for young girls, or only for women, might not recognize that they are creating part of the problem discussed by the author. A book of the same vein for men, for example, would not be a big deal because mentioning that all of the scientists in such a book are male wouldn’t even be in the footnotes!
So, I give a three-star recommendation for this book. The stories were interesting both from a personal standpoint and a scientific standpoint and this reader had a lot of fun researching new terminology! Right now, there are at least 2016 years of scientific discoveries to catch up on and much credit goes to amazing female scientists — I am happy to report, that number increases every year.