Book review: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World by Rachel Swaby




Rachel Swaby is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in theRunner’s WorldWiredO, The Oprah Magazine, New, 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


About Headstrong

Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history’s brightest female scientists.

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?      

 delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.


From discoveries in nuclear fission to the precursor of wi-fi, the role of women in science and mathematics has been seriously under appreciated.

Headstrong relates the accounts of 52 women who have been instrumental in major breakthroughs from the 17th to 19th centuries.

A common thread throughout most of these accounts is the fact that the majority of these women were not permitted to enroll in schools of higher learning, teach (as a professor) or practice their respective skills.  Many of these extremely talented women (geniuses in fact) were not even paid for most of their careers and recognition often came decades later or not at all and many universities weren’t ready to bestoy honors of a PhD on a woman.

This book was so interesting.  Here are some of the discoveries I learned about:

Ellen Swallow Richards –  Sanitation Engineering

Tilly Edinger – paleontology / paleoneurology

Rachel Carson – Environmental legistlation

Anne McLaren – In vitro fertilization

Lise Meitner – Nuclear fission

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow – insulin and diabetes

Inge Lehmann – discovered that the earth has an inner core

Yvonne Brill – chemical propulsion (which enabled man to travel to the moon)

Sally Ride – astronaut

Maria Gaetana Agnesi – mathematician – calculus

Emmy Noether – her knowledge of the general theory of relativity was crucial to aiding Einstein’s theory of relativity and her theorem is the backbone on which all of modern physics is built.

The technical aspects of this book are easily understood and would be an asset in any school library.

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

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