Friday, January 13, 2017

Books by Theme: Women in Science

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly
William Morrow (2016)

In this debut, Shetterly shines a much-needed light on the bright, talented, and wholly underappreciated geniuses of the institution that would become NASA. Called upon during the labor shortage of World War II, these women were asked to serve their country and put their previously overlooked skills to work-all while being segregated from their white coworkers. The author tells the compelling stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden as they navigated mathematical equations, the space race, and the civil rights movement over three decades of brilliant computing and discoveries. The professional and private lives of the ladies of Langley Research Center are documented through an impassioned and clearly well-researched narrative. Readers will learn how integral these women were to American aeronautics and be saddened by the racism and sexism that kept them from deserved recognition. Shetterly's highly recommended work offers up a crucial history that had previously and unforgivably been lost. We'd do well to put this book into the hands of young women who have long since been told that there's no room for them at the scientific table.

Rise of the Rocket Girls
Nathalia Holt
Little, Brown (2016)

We take so much for granted now, but in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, women who wanted a career other than homemaker were mostly limited to becoming teachers, nurses, or secretaries, and there was no such thing as maternity leave. However, a few smart young women who loved math were hired to be human computers for the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. What we think of as computers now hadn't been invented yet. These women spent their days writing equations and computing numbers with pencils, paper, and slide rules to give the male engineers the information they needed to build rockets, satellites, and space shuttles. This selection will surprise and thrill teens not only because it honors the crucial work of these female scientists but also because it shows their individual humanity-their favorite fashions, their personal relationships-within the broader context of the international space race, changes in U.S. society brought about by feminism and integration, and transformations in American daily life brought about by evolving technology. Teen book clubs will enjoy discussing the pros and cons of all-female work groups, the costs and benefits of space exploration, and more. Readers will want to search online for information about the Juno probe, mentioned in the "1970s-Today" section as orbiting Jupiter in July 2016. The extensive notes section details the many first-person interviews conducted by the author, plus the archival materials she used. An engaging, inspiring offering that will appeal to fans of history, science, and feminism.

Glass Universe
by Dava Sobel
Viking (2016)

When we think of computers, we usually think of devices that perform processes to store and process data. In the mid-19th century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as computers to calculate distances and interpret spatial data. Award-winning science journalist Sobel (Longitude; Galileo's Daughter) tells their story. Relying on letters, memoirs, and diaries, she describes their significant contributions to the emerging discipline of astronomy at a time when stellar photography had begun to have a tremendous impact on how data was gathered and interpreted. Sobel provides details of the persistent work inequities these women confronted. They earned less pay than their male counterparts and were not properly acknowledged through membership in professional societies or with available awards. Sobel's book records the impact of women such as Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system adopted by astronomers across the globe. Though this title isn't intended as a discipline-specific monograph, at times, it bogs readers down in scientific minutiae. Readers who enjoyed Sobel's previous work will welcome this new title. It is a terrific catalog to match the exceptional work these women created in the course of their careers.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone
Candlewick (2009)

Stone adopts a tone of righteous indignation in chronicling the quixotic efforts of 13 women to win admission into NASA's initial astronaut training program in the early 1960s. The women were all pilots (one, Jerrie Cobb, had more hours in the air than John Glenn or Scott Carpenter), earned high scores in preliminary tests, and even counted a senator's wife among their number. But resistance came from all directions-including NASA regulations, which were weighted toward men; media coverage that reflected contemporary gender expectations; political maneuvering by then vice president LBJ and other officials; and the crushing opposition expressed by renowned aviatrix Jackie Cochran in a 1962 Congressional hearing. Properly noting, however, that losing "depends on where you draw the finish line," the author closes with chapters on how women did ultimately win their way into space-not only as mission specialists, but also as pilots and commanders. Illustrated with sheaves of photos, and based on published sources, recently discovered documents, and original interviews with surviving members of the "Mercury 13," this passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to established gender prejudices also introduces readers to a select group of courageous, independent women.

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