Book Review for Headstrong by Rachel Swaby
06 May 2015
HEADSTRONG by Rachel Swaby starts with a fascinating (and slightly infuriating) anecdote. The opening line:
This book about scientists began with Beef Stroganoff. According to the New York Times, Yvonne Brill made a mean one.
Yvonne Brill was a rocket scientist, and a brilliant one – but the New York Times decided that her Beef Stroganoff was far more noteworthy than her discovery of a fuel-efficient chemical propulsion thruster. This “snafu” must have been in the 1950s or 1960s, right? Nope. March of 2013.
Let that sink in. Two years ago, a brilliant and important woman of science was revered for her stroganoff in her obituary, with a quick mention of her scientific discoveries buried in the proceeding paragraphs.
I should something about myself: I have a major affinity for feminist nonfiction. How To Be a Woman is one of my favorite books. So, I’m admittedly biased and predisposed to love a book like Headstrong.
And love it I do. This collection of women who changed the world is a good read, but more than that – this is an important book. I am incredibly glad this book exists in the world. I’m grateful to learn about Gerty Radnitz Cori, who worked side-by-side with her husband and yet was slighted by so many universities for being a woman in science. I’m humbled by Chien-Shung Wu’s work in nuclear physics. And I’m enthralled by Rosalind Franklin’s work in genetics, which laid the foundation for Watson and Crick to diagram the double helix.
Feminists, scientists, literary lovers – Headstrong deserves a place on your shelves.