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?      

 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.


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”


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.


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.


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.