A Review of “Headstrong: 52 women who changed science-and the world”

A book which covers the importance of the women who pioneered the way for others, such as myself and other female scientists working in predominately male fields, which made the disappointment in accuracy and immature writing style even more poignant. Inclusion into the book was predicated on the fact you’re no longer living, which I get, since scientists who are still living might still achieve other accolades.

headstrong52womenPages: 288  Genre: Nonfiction / History /  Biography   
My Rating: 2 of 5  Broken Beakers
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.01 of 5 stars
Form Read: kindle ebook   Purchased or Borrowed: Library Copy

Synopsis from Amazon: 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?      

Headstrong
 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.

THE WOMEN

As a women in science, it’s still hard working in a predominately male dominated field but at least no one contested my enrollment in college, or denied me a higher degree because of my sex. Most, but not all, of the 52 women discussed in this book had supportive husbands who often also worked in science and realized their brilliance.

“As a research worker, the unforgotten moments of my life are those rare ones, which come after years of plodding work, when the veil over nature’s secret seems suddenly to lift and when what was dark and chaotic appears in a clear and beautiful light and pattern”          –Gerty Cori from “This I Believe”

READING LEVEL & WRITING STYLE

This is a strange mix of middle grade reading level with the occasional big word thrown in for drama’s sake. It makes each of the 4-8 page biographies sound glossed over with a random but sometimes irrelevant fact thrown in for good measure. The author’s writing style itself was somewhere between a text message and middle school book report, with unneeded colloquial references and general slang that just gave the feel of being unprofessional and didn’t add anything to the actual story or the point that was attempting to be made.

FACT CHECK

The format of this book leaves very little room for embellishment for any of the 52 women’s stories, but after reading one particular story I’m familiar with, I realized a lot of the facts could have been glossed over in a “I AM WOMAN” kind of a way obscuring their actual role in the events reported. The entire section concerning Helen Taussing and her role in “blue baby syndrome” was glossed over and made to be much more important than it actually was. Much of this has to do with the fact that Vivien Thomas, the African American “janitor” who pioneered the actual surgery, was omitted from having any major role in the discovery (other than the fact she talked to him, which he claims didn’t happen).

Omitting the importance of others in a scientific discovery because of race or gender is the whole premise of this book, so the author doing the EXACT SAME THING, both makes me angry and leaves me questioning the accuracy of the biographies.

MY THOUGHTS AS A WOMAN SCIENTIST 

I like that this book exposes readers to women scientists from a variety of backgrounds and gives insight into their lives outside of the lab and relationships with others as well. I’m disappointed in the accuracy, but it would be a good general introduction to several different forms of science for young readers. If interested in a particular woman’s life, I’d recommend not taking anything in this book as fact, and reading a few other sources.

It’s sad, but I’ve worked in three primarily male dominated scientific fields in three different states, and this is still a problem. All of my bosses are men. All of my bosses bosses are men.

Having a family and working in a demanding field makes this even harder. Women ridicule because you if you decide not to have children, and men don’t take you seriously because one day you might, and that makes you somehow a less reliable investment. If you do decide to have a family AND a career, it’s a constant struggle for balance.

One of my coworkers is a female scientist and attempts to accomplish as much as a male coworker with a child the same age. The male coworker’s wife took a less demanding job with flexible hours to give him the ability to focus on his career and advancement, but my female coworker doesn’t have this. She is the primary caregiver for her child, she works long hours, and still is responsible for daily life at home. When heads of other departments or sites visit and we have dinners, she can’t go because she has to be home to care for her daughter, but the male coworker doesn’t have this issue. He can meet higher up bosses and be involved in more projects. He doesn’t have to turn down travel because his partner prefers he’s home to cook meals and do laundry. Mentioned in the Harvard Business Review, these extra hours mean advancements, bonuses, and further burden on your spouse.

The women highlighted in this book laid the foundation, but we still have a lot to do both in the workplace and in the home to truly have a balanced life.

 

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, a review

Paper is slowly taking over my life. It is gradual, and I don’t notice it day-t0-day but now that I have a real job and am somewhere we plan on staying for a while, I feel the need to tame the paper beast. This book received a lot of praise from youtube and goodreads, so I thought I’d give it a go.

lifechangingtidyingupPages: 226 Genre: Nonfiction / Selfhelp / Organization / Lifestyle  
Rating: 3 of 5  swiffer dusters
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.79 of 5 stars
Form Read: kindle ebook

Synopsis from Amazon: This #1 New York Times best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles? Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list). With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

THE REVIEW

This book has some good advice on how to declutter and organize your entire home. Can a writing style be polite? That’s the feeling I got from Marie Kondo’s personal accounts of individual problems with clients, and how she developed this method over the course of her life.

HOW TO START

A tidying marathon doesn’t cause rebound. She states that if you see an immediate and drastic difference you’re more likely to keep it up, than if you make small changes over and over and make no seeable difference. Never tidy by space but instead sort by function, as we tend to story many of the same type of items in different locations. When you gather all of one type of item you can see which you really use and which you need to discard.

TYPES OF PEOPLE WHO CAN’T STAY TIDY

She states that after years as a professional organizer, she has decided there are there kinds of personalities that prevent most people from living in a tidy home: 1) can’t throw it away, 2) can’t put it back, and 3) first two combined. I’m most definitely the second. I am horrible about never being able to find anything, and I’ll reorganize only to forget the new location… it’s not like we have a huge house, we live in Boston! .. the constant use of “tidy” is already getting to me.

EVERYTHING HAS A HOME 

She lives by the idea that if everything has a place, and is returned to that place it can always be found, and that space will never be filled with other items you don’t actually need. You do this with everything in your house. You use it, then you put it back.

TYPES OF TIDYING 

At this point in the book I wished she’d use another word for tidying, it was irrationally starting to get on my nerves. Anyway though, Kondo says there are two types of tidying: daily and special event. She says not to tidy daily, so this was bit confusing. Daily tidying is just putting things back where they belong. Special event tidying is actually going through items and putting your house back in order. Kondo says she does this about twice a year for less than an hour each time.

WHAT’S INVOLVED

It’s simple. You keep it or you don’t. Giving things to your parents is not considered dealing with the mess, it’s just putting things off to others for them to deal with.

She has a very unique look at things and homes. She thanks her home for giving her shelter each day when she comes home, she also believes that your clothes are resting when they are put away, and that the way you handle them transfers energy, making them last longer…. That’s a little too out there for me, but I do agree with the author that when you know you can find anything you need quickly, that it reduces your stress level. As does having everything put away so you don’t feel like your avoiding the elephant in the room while binge watching netflix.

BOOKS! 

She has a whole section on book organization. I did this a few years ago and never looked back. I purged all the texts from college that I kept “as a reference” and never opened. I also got rid of all my note binders I also never checked again.

I don’t get all of the booktubers with hundreds and hundreds of books! I move every few years and packing and moving that many books is such a burden. Also, I’ve lived in urban areas in the New England area, which means space is a premium. No more “I’m going to read this one day!!!”

THINGS THAT AREN’T CORRECT

The author states that there is no reason to keep pay stubs, but my current company asked for stubs from specific months at several previous science positions to confirm timing of employment (W2s as well). If you can’t provide the paperwork they request you don’t get the job. I keep all pay-stubs and would recommend anyone wanting to work at a major university or in industry based science do the same.

OVERALL 

This was a quick and easy read, with a pleasant writing style… even if the word “tidy” made me cringe near the end of the book. Some of the concepts are a little too close to the crazy train for me… I’m not going to talk to my socks… But it does have some good tips, so I’d recommend it if you want a light read and are interested in reorganizing.

Find this book: Goodreads  / Amazon / B&N

 

A southerner’s review of “Deep South” by Paul Theroux

deepsouthpaultherouxsouthernbookreview

Let me start this review with my bias: I spent birth to the age of 25 living in various southern states and grew up in a rural area, even by Southern standards.

This being said, there are things I love and treasure about the culture, but there are also very distinct reasons that I no longer live there. This review is a mixture of quotes from the book and my personal experiences on the same topics.

 

deepsouth


Pages
:464  Genre: Travel/ Regional Nonfiction

Rating: 3 of 5 fried pies  Average Goodreads Rating: 3.78 of 5 stars

Summary from Amazon: One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked

Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away. Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America — the Deep South. He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation’s worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It’s these parts of the South, so often ignored, that have caught Theroux’s keen traveler’s eye. 

On road trips spanning four seasons, wending along rural highways, Theroux visits gun shows and small-town churches, laborers in Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi where they still call the farm up the road “the plantation.” He talks to mayors and social workers, writers and reverends, the working poor and farming families — the unsung heroes of the south, the people who, despite it all, never left, and also those who returned home to rebuild a place they could never live without. 

From the writer whose “great mission has always been to transport us beyond that reading chair, to challenge himself — and thus, to challenge us” (Boston Globe), Deep South is an ode to a region, vivid and haunting, full of life and loss alike.
Find the book: Goodreads / Amazon / B&N  

MAJOR POINTS

The book is supposed to be an inside look on the culture and conditions of the southern states and the people who call it home. The reality is that he spent a very small amount of time in the south in general, and instead the majority of the book focuses on specific small towns, mainly in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. He visits these same rural communities for short periods multiple times, during different times of the year. This allows him to see changes in the area and the people, but it also means the majority of his observations are either very specific or regional generalizations.

FAULKNER’S SOUTH

“Faulkner insisted on how different Southerners are from the rest of Americans; it is a belief that many Southerners cling to…”

Faulkner is referenced throughout the book, and he has a dedicated chapter just to his version of the Southern town and townspeople. I think the view of the south in literature and how it’s changed overtime is an important point when contrasted to what Theroux actually observed, but the extensive quotations and references to different books and authors was distracting and verbose.

SOUTHERN CULTURE

“[The] Southern identity is not a matter of local color, quaintness, biscuits, white columns, dusty roads, and so forth. It lies very deep. In its entirety, it is known only to God, but of those who look for it, none gets so close as the artist.”

We are easy to identify as soon as we speak. We have a drawl and distinct vocabulary that distinguishes us from other regions. The majority of these preconceived notions are not positive. Racism is still rampant. Poverty, illiteracy, and violence are widespread. These things perpetrate the stereotype of the gun toting redneck and the entitled southern belle.

“The poor, having little else, keep their culture intact as part of their vitality, long after the well off have dumped it.”

This is completely true. It also has to do with the “altered” history many of us are presented, which just furthers the resentment stemming from the Civil War and forced integration during the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. I graduated high school in 2000 and still learned about the Civil War as “the war of northern aggression” and the fight for “state’s rights.” Everything covering this subject was skewed to a southern perspective of being wronged by the north.

The area I’m from has an annual reunion and celebration honoring confederate soldiers who fell in the Civil War and locals boast about how my region of the Ozarks holds the headquarters of the [still active] Klan. Being raised in this environment doesn’t mean you’re destined adopt these ideals, my husband and I are both proof of that, but with this sort of inundation it makes it harder to see perspectives garnered as “outsider” points of view and harder still to realize these differences actually exist. You never realize what is regional until you venture out of that area and gain perspective.

“One is more often greeted with suspicion, hostility, or indifference. In this way Americans could be more challenging, more secretive and suspicious and in many respects more foreign, than people I have ever met.”

Theroux recounted the dichotomy of the welcome and hospitality of the South, with the wariness of outsiders. In many of the areas I’ve lived in and traveled to, if you don’t have grandparents buried there, you’re not “from” there. He does an excellent job giving real examples of times when this is true and how many topics of conversation discussed openly by Southerners with strangers, are considered private information by people from other region. It’s not uncommon to meet someone in line somewhere (where it’s considered rude not to chat) and their second question is what church you attend.

WORKING POOR AND POVERTY 

“Sixteen percent of Americans were classified as poor–and it was twenty percent in the South, in places where the income gap was growing wider than at any time in history.”

Where I grew up in the Ozark mountains of northern Arkansas, I knew people who didn’t have indoor plumbing and lived in the same conditions the author recounts of the south in general. Conditions he deems “third world.” When I describe growing up poor in the south to scientist friends in Boston, they are always shocked. Working as a child is still common, either on a farm or doing random jobs. My first paid job was around the age of 12, where I washed dishes for a local catfish restaurant. This is something none of my Northern friends experienced. Some had jobs, but most were part time and not until college to use as “spending money.”

“Companies had come to the South because the labor force was available and willing, wages were low, land was inexpensive, and unions were nonexistent.”

This passage hit me particularly hard. My grandmother worked in a shirt factory, that if it was located anywhere else in the world would have been considered a sweatshop. It wasn’t heated or cooled, and would get over 90F inside during the summers. If she didn’t meet her quota her already low pay was docked. At one point when I was in elementary, my grandmother sewed through her hand. She wasn’t allowed to go to the doctor, and her pay was docked twice, once for not meeting her daily quota for the time she took to remove the needle from her hand and bandage herself, the second for the loss of merchandise because she bleed on the shirts she was working on.

No one complained openly because they couldn’t risk losing one of the few regular jobs available in the area. A hard but sought after job because it came with health insurance, something most of the people I grew up with, myself included, didn’t have. The entire factory, and the others located in nearby towns, was outsourced to Mexico in the early 2000’s, after I left for collage.

“The poor in the rural South cast aside and existing like residue.”

This taught me the value of hard work but my family also said time and time again that you should be thankful for any job and do it to the best of your ability, because if you don’t there is a line of willing bodies waiting behind you that haven’t been so lucky. This is something that means my work ethic today borders on pathological, but has also allowed me to be very successful because the majority of the country (thankfully) doesn’t have this mentality and only specific parts have the lasting experience true poverty provides.

“Poverty is a great educator. Those who have never known it lack something.”

I don’t really like this statement, but it does sum up much of the South. When you work to eat and starve if you rock the boat or complain about conditions, your basal level of what is acceptable is shifted from the average worker. I now work with mostly people who came from middle or upper middle class families, and my previous position in the Ivy League involved working with people who were independently wealthy or came from this sort of background. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, but it’s easy to take risks both in career and education when you have a safety net you know will catch you. The majority of the working poor don’t have this. I knew continuing on to college was completely up to me, if I lost a scholarship or couldn’t deal with increases in tuition I would simply have to quit. HERE is a document complied in 2014 by the US government on many of the limitations poverty places on education and potential for advancement.

“I saw […] a pawnshop, since the most costly and pawnable item in a hill country household is a firearm.”

My parents opened a pawnshop when I was in middle school, and it proved to be a turning point for us financially. We had a lot of hardships when I was very young, but this business provided a little more security. We no longer had periods without heat in the winter, and I went to the movies and out to dinner for the first time a year or two after the shop was opened (around the age of 12). This didn’t by any means make us “well off” or even really comfortable, but it did allow us to have basic needs covered and new clothes once a year.

The shop also met a need in the community. Up to this point second hand tools and other products were only available at yard [or tag] sales. The last several years have been hard on them though, I asked my mother why and told her that I thought business would be increasing because people needed used things over new she responded, “The people who couldn’t afford new before, now can’t afford used.”

Guns and bows are still the most common item purchased and pawned for the shop because of the quote above. Every time I visit home and spend any length of time in the shop, the conversation eventually turns to someone taking the guns, or ammo shortages.. which is a topic the author heard all through his travels.

RACE

This is a major topic throughout the book, and rightfully so. Theroux terms the portions of the South heavily populated by former slaves as the “black belt.” He does a good job contrasting the communities and outlining the separation that still exists today. Theroux even brings examples of college sororities and fraternities that are still divided by racial lines.

The book also gives several examples of the impact the fear of change can have on the community and on the individual. “The South remembers,” is a phrase I grew up hearing and facilitates the culture so many are trying to hold on to, but also so many of the prejudices that shame us and prevent us from growing and progressing as a region.

Most of the people I’ve met in New England and abroad who have ventured to the South have all mentioned it’s like stepping back in time and the longer I’m away the more I see it.

VETERANS

The author meets several veterans while traveling and touches on how the poorer region of the South donates the lives of many of it’s sons and daughters to military life. Many of the personal accounts in the book relate that military life was their only way out of poverty and the only way they would get to see the world would be through the lens of a rifle scope.

povertyopportunity

This image is taken from THIS article about poverty and opportunity.
Expanded on in a second article about the cost of inequality, HERE.

A large portion of my family is military, as are many of the people I went to school with. There is a great passage from a Vietnam vet and his experience returning from war to a still racially charged southern town, even after serving his country and coming home damaged as an Airborne veteran. Many of the people from my hometown have ended up in this division and many of those people now have memorials. It’s a very sobering thing as a teen to attend the funeral or memorial service for someone the same age as you. I assume the same is true for those who experience loss in urban areas. Death is death and it tends to visit the poor more frequently.

CRITICISM

I have a few problems with this book, though it is insightful and well written in many places. One is the obviously biased descriptors sometimes used for the regions he visits, such as the “bumpkin hills” of the Ozark mountains in Arkansas. This is where I’m from, and likely why this judgement based word choice stuck with me.

Theroux repeatedly refers to his previous books and his travels around the world. I think at least once in every major section he mentions the aid and relieve efforts in “third world” countries, and draws the parallel to how little support much of the impoverished south receives. While the original point is very good, I don’t think the reader had a memory laps after 20 pages of reading and revisiting with the same exact phrasing became off-putting near the end of the book.

Expanding on this point, he obviously wrote this book in sections, with each subsequent visit being a new account on the area. While I’m sure he needed to remind himself of certain aspects of each particular visit, when read as a complete piece this is redundant and distracting. The expansion of changes he noted in the area was interesting, but I didn’t need a complete history of the town each time it was revisited.

My final major criticism of this book is the name dropping style he quotes other books and authors. Sometimes it’s relevant, but the majority of the time it’s just filler.

“… around the world, the private language of the underclass that identifies the speaker and is exclusive to that group: Cockney, street slang, and thieves’ argot, and verbal formulas that are distinct to secret societies, to baffle and vex and exclude outsiders.”

This is part of the reason I will always identify with the South and Southern culture. You can tell as soon as I speak that I’m not from New England. This same accent gives me away as “belonging” when I return to the south. It’s also easy. I know the rules and how to interact. Poverty and unity of community leaves a mark that travels with you, even after years of being away. I think this is part of the reason so many of the people Theroux interviewed eventually return to the area that once was home. There will always be things I don’t agree with, and hopes I have for the region as a whole, but it will also always be my home, even if I never live there again.