This book about scientists began with beef stroganoff. According to the New York Times, Yvonne Brill made a mean one. In an obituary published in March 2013, Brill was honored with the title of “world’s best mom” because she “followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off work to raise three children.”
Only after a loud, public outcry did the Times amend the article so it would begin with the contribution that earned Brill a featured spot in the paper of record in the first place: “She was a brilliant rocket scientist.” Oh right. That.
The error – stroganoff before science; domesticity before personal achievement – is so cringe-worthy because it’s a common one. In 1964, when Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin won the greatest award that chemistry has to offer, a paper declared “Nobel Prize for British Wife,” as if she stumbled upon the complex structures of biochemical substances while matching her husband’s socks.
We simply don’t speak of men in science this way. Their marital status isn’t considered necessary context in a biochemical breakthrough. Employment as an important aerospace engineer is not the big surprise hidden behind a warm plate of noodles. For men, scientific accomplishments are accepted as something naturally within their grasp.
There are fifty-two profiles in this book. Read one a week, and in a year you’ll know whose research jump-started the Environmental Protection Agency, who discovered wrinkle-free cotton, and even whose ingenious score has now saved generations of struggling newborns, and much more.
“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
Excerpted from Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World by Rachel Swaby. Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Swaby. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.