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Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World Paperback – April 7, 2015

4.6 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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

“A corrective—a spur to change… Swaby’s subjects are all worthy women who deserve more publicity.”
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.”

"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.”

“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." 
—Library Journal

About the Author

Rachel Swaby is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Runner's WorldWiredO, 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.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 7, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553446797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553446791
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The pivotal line of this book is delivered by Hertha Ayrton, who was a scientist, an author, a close friend of Marie Curie, and the inventor of a fan that dispersed noxious gas away from soldiers. She is quoted as saying: "Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of 'women and science' is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view."

This is the standard of measure of all the women in the book Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. In this work, Swaby covers the lives and contributions of 52 women in varying branches of science including invention, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and more. Why 52? Swaby reasons that there are 52 weeks in a year, and so in reading this book you can learn about a different female scientist each week.

Each selection is just a snapshot of their life and their lasting impact to human progress and innovation. Some of these portraits are only two pages long; the longest is only about 5 pages. Although each segment is brief, the value of having so many different contributions by women compiled together effectively drives home the point of the impact women have made to the umbrella of science area which they fall under and upon the larger world.

The work is fact-filled, interesting, full of trivia, and delivers strong evidence of the value of female scientists without harping on or getting lost in hot-button issues like male dominance in science and exclusion of women in the field.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I chose this book because I wanted to have something that I could use for my daughter in earning her Women Scientists badge for American Heritage Girls. One of the requirements at her current level is to learn about a few women who invented something, and I just wanted it to be something different than the fairly silly stuff I've seen come through so far. Let's actually learn something about these scientists.

This book will definitely accomplish that goal, though I have not used it with my 9 year old daughter yet. I've been reading it myself, to see if the whiney tone of the introduction continued into the biographies.

The introduction is worth reading, if just to understand the parameters the author used in choosing these 52 women. She did not choose anyone still living, as she wants her biographies to reflect their entire life's work. She also didn't include Marie Curie, as she is the token female included in every list of great scientists.

The biographies are great. The book is split into sections (medicine, biology and the environment, genetics and development, physics, the earth and the stars, math and technology, and invention) so you can focus in on an area you are interested in, read straight through, or just go for random biographies. Each biography is only a couple of pages long, so you can easily read one in just a few minutes. Obviously, these are not in-depth biographies, but there is quite a bit of information packed into those pages. Definitely, there is enough to give you a good overview, and you could then look for more information if you want to dig deeper.

The biographies focus on the struggles and successes of each scientist, which is why I have always loved using scientist biographies with my children.
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Format: Paperback
This book was totally inspiring! I almost wished I’d stuck with my original college goals in science after reading Headstrong. Swaby chose 52 amazing women to highlight and by specifically only including women whose “life work has been completed” she really makes you think about how far women have come in the fields like medicine, physics, and chemistry. For example, the first woman featured, Mary Putnam Jacobi who to enter medical school in Paris had to enter lectures through a separate door and maintain a buffer of empty seats around her. Or chemist Ellen Swallow Richards who was the first woman admitted to MIT in 1870. Richards was admitted tuition free – so that if anyone complained about her being a student the school could claim that she was not establishing a precedent for the admission of females.

These women were amazing! They were brilliant and all around inspiring. Virginia Apgar – besides coming up with the Apgar test to evaluate newborns – “always kept the following things on her person: a penknife, an endotrachial tube, and a laryngoscope, just in case someone needed an emergency tracheotomy.” And its the BOY Scouts who are prepared?! I could have pulled a quote from any chapter that was this cool!

At the same time this book made me kind of want to tear my hair out reading the stories of these geniuses that were unpaid, relegated to work in closets or not given credit for their ideas. Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize for genetics, was asked if she was bitter that it took so long for the Nobel to come to her she said “When you know you’re right you don’t care. It’s such a pleasure to carry out an experiment when you think of something. …I’ve had such a good time, I can’t imagine having a better one.
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