Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky: Book Review

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Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky Book Cover
Title: Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

My Synopsis:

Author and artist Rochel Ignotofsky presents mini biographies of 50 women who have worked (and continue to work) in scientific fields.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book, especially as a woman with a degree in biology and a background in clinical research.

Ignotofsky obviously made an effort to include women from many countries and across many races, which is lovely. Considering that the entry for Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, mentions that Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek was one of her role models because no one who looked like her was an astronaut, this is especially important.

She also made an effort to include many branches of science, including doctors, mathematicians, physicists, astronomers, biologists, botanists, geologists, etc. Any young reader with a fascination for one particular field should find an inspiring figure in this book.

The first bio features Hypatia, an Egyptian-born woman of Greek descent who was an astronomer, mathematician and philosopher in the 4th century. There’s a huge jump forward in time to the second entry, Maria Sibylla Merian, an entomologist who was born in 1647. From there, the timeline moves steadily forward, organized by the subjects’ years of birth.

I was familiar with a handful of these women–Rachel Carson, Rosalind Franklin, Jane Goodall, even Hedy Lamarr as a scientist–but most of them were new to me. I loved reading about them all.

On a personal note, I noticed that one woman, Gertrude Elion, worked at Burroughs Wellcome. I texted my aunt about her because my uncle worked for that company as a lawyer. I thought the chances of the two working there at the same time were almost nonexistent because of the age difference (40+ years). My uncle knew her! My aunt responded that my uncle started “glowing with admiration” as soon as she mentioned her name. He has “some great stories” to tell me the next time we see each other. How fun to find a personal connection in these pages!

Each biography is a two-page spread with a portrait and quote, either by or about the subject, and highlights from her career on one page and the bio with a few more highlights on the other page. I’ve just spent the morning copying a lot of the quotes into my journal. I’ll try not to get too carried away with sharing them but here are a few notables.

“An error that ascribes to a man what was actually the work of a woman has more lives than a cat.” Hertha Ayrton

“The main stumbling block in the way of any progress is and always has been unimpeachable tradition.” Chen-Shiung Wu

“Still more mysteries of the universe remain hidden. Their discovery awaits the adventurous scientists of the future. I like it this way.” Vera Rubin

“Once you are at this faraway distance [in space], you realize the significance of what it is that unites us. Let us work together to overcome our differences.” Valentina Tereshkova

The book also includes a timeline of milestones in women’s history, charts showing gender gaps in scientific fields, one-sentence bios of an additional 15 women scientists, an illustrated glossary, and a brief bibliography. At first glance, I was disappointed in the bibliography but then noticed that the author included a link to her website with a much more extensive list (You can find it here if you’re interested.).

The book was shelved in the adult section of my library, and I would definitely recommend it for adults. It feels like it’s intended more for older middle-grade to young adults though. The list of more women in science ends with “The next great scientist could be you!” The conclusion ends with, “So go out and tackle new problems, find your answers, and learn everything you can to make your own discoveries!” It feels a lot like a call to curious young students to take up the mantle and carry the work forward. I hope many girls accept the challenge.

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  1. I’ve really been enjoying the many collections of biographies of interesting women that have been published in the past few years and this sounds like a good one! I’m also interested to hear that the bibliography is online, because while I like these books, they also always leave me wanting more. Your person connection to this one is a great find 🙂

  2. The intended audience is YA, but I love reading nonfiction for younger readers, especially something like this since it presumably wouldn’t be too dense and heavy. I’ll see if my library has a copy when I get back to Oregon. It sounds really good!

  3. This does sound brilliant! How interesting that your uncle knew one of the ladies mentioned in the book.

    I think books like these are important in libraries, the problem is just where to shelve them as you say But perhaps older Middle Grade to YA is a good place for the inquisitive minds.

    I hope you had a good week and will enjoy the upcoming one!

  4. Books like this can be so inspiring (especially when there is a person connection!) and are fun to read because you can pick it up and put it down without losing the flow of a story. Inspirational women for the win!

  5. This sounds like a fantastic book. I shall recommend it to a friend who loves to read about strong women.

    “Once you are at this faraway distance [in space], you realize the significance of what it is that unites us. Let us work together to overcome our differences.” What a great quote.

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