by Rachel Swaby
(Broadway Books, $16)
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
You’ve never heard of most of the women in this book, and that is precisely why it exists.
You probably didn’t know that it was a woman who invented Kevlar, who first mapped the ocean floor, who wrote the first computer program, who uncovered the structure of DNA. Modern science owes much to the contributions of brilliant, tenacious women who went about their work even in the face of outstanding discrimination and disapproval, and in “Headstrong,” journalist Rachel Swaby introduces us to 52 of them.
Written with insight, clarity and humor, these easily digestible mini-biographies are designed to be easily comprehensible to the non-scientist, outlining in a few pages each the subject’s background, the focus and accomplishments of her career and, all too often, her societal and professional struggles in a time when women were just beginning to break into the glass-ceilinged ivory towers of academia.
Many were forced to work for low pay or even for free, as universities refused to officially employ them. Male research partners dismissed their work or stole credit for their findings. Some faced extra prejudice due to their race, ancestry, religion or social class. But overlooked, pushed aside, even flat-out ignored, these determined women still managed to make strides in their respective fields that remain relevant and influential to this day.
The women in “Headstrong” aren’t included just because they are smart ladies, but because they achieved things that are amazing for any person, making discoveries and designing inventions that increased the boundaries of human knowledge and accomplishment. Decades, even centuries later, they are still inspiring role models for any gender.