December 16 saw my fifth anniversary of writing the Illustrated Women in Science column, and of the many ways that occurred to me to celebrate, the one I thought would be most useful would be to tramp through the Women in Science bookshelves whose contents I have been assembling for the past couple decades and write down, once and for all, a bibliography of great women in science biographies and memoirs, to share with those who are looking to start their own collection or who are just looking for an off-the-beaten-path scientist to spend some time with. Here then are 150 from the shelves, arranged alphabetically by scientist, with a few words here and there when the spirit moves me! Dig in, and happy collecting!
1. The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God. Massimo Mazzotti, 2007
2. A Matter of Choices: Memoirs of a Female Physicist. Faye Ajzenberg-Selove, 1994
This is a tough one to track down, but worth it for the insight it gives into the particular difficulties women faced in mid-century physics departments.
3. On Her Own Terms: Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the American West. Barbara R. Stein, 2001.
Alexander was a tough as nails field biologist who put the natural science of the Western United States on the map academically, and this book captures both her amazing scientific method and unbreakable adventuring spirit.
4. Baboon Mothers and Infants. Jeanne Altmann, 1980
Altmann wrote the book on how to perform statistically rigorous field studies of behavior, and this is that book. Come for the compelling tales of baboon social life, stay for the charts and graphs!
5. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Jo Manton, 1965
6. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Louisa Garrett Anderson
This is my go-to Anderson biography, but there’s a non-zero chance that’s because I’ll always choose a century old tome over a merely fifty year old one whenever given the chance.
7. The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form. Agnes Arber, 1950
Arber brings the history of early botanical theory to life, and ends with a call for a new approach to plant development that is stirring even now, three quarters of a century later. It’s also pretty dense in terms of botanical terminology, so maybe not your FIRST choice for a quick Winter’s read.
8. The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World. Shelley Emling, 2009
A fun book about a woman who is finally coming into the recognition she’s deserved for some centuries now. Thrill as Anning discovers some of the great paleontological specimens of the 19th century, and growl as she is routinely ground into poverty by the callous fossil hunting glory hounds of her day.
9. Hertha Ayrton, A Memoir. Evelyn Sharp, 1926
Another hard one to find, but so worth it. Sharp knew Ayrton, and that brings a personal touch to Ayrton’s compelling early 20th century tale of ground-breaking electrical and fluid studies that’s magical in its way.
10. Pour un monde sans sida: Un combat partage. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, 2012
Barre-Sinoussi’s autobiography is part scientific memoir, part peek into the ins and outs of global health policy, and everywhere engaging. Yes, it’s in French, but there isn’t an overabundance of technical jargon, so a normal familiarity with the language will see you through.
11. Fighting for Life. S. Josephine Baker, 1939
A classic memoir, now thankfully back in print, of one woman’s energetic attempt to bring sensibility and science to the sanitation policies of early 20th century America.
12. Laura Bassi and Science in 18th Century Europe: The Extraordinary Life and Role of Italy’s Pioneering Female Professor. Monique Frize, 2013
There need to be more books about Laura Bassi, both for the work she did and for the importance of her example. So many women scientists have traced inspiration to tales they read of Bassi that a whole volume could be made of those connections alone. In the meantime, we have this book, and it’s entirely fine.
13. Mabel Bell: Alexander’s Silent Partner. Lilias M. Toward, 1996
14. My Life in a Man-Made Jungle. Belle J. Benchley, 1940
I love Belle Benchley. Her approach to developing the San Diego Zoo improved the lives of animals the planet over. This is one of her books detailing her observations about several of her favorite animals from her time at the zoo, and sure it can tend towards the anthropomorphic but it’s just so damn charming you don’t care.
15. The Zoo Lady: Belle Benchley and the San Diego Zoo. Margaret Poynter, 1980
16. Ruth Benedict: Stranger in this Land. Margaret M. Caffrey, 1989
17. Elizabeth Blackburn and the Story of Telomeres: Deciphering the Ends of DNA. Catherine Brady, 2007
So, what’s it like being a woman of science NOW? Blackburn‘s success in studying and unlocking the many potential roles of telomeres while developing a woman-friendly research lab that cranked out a continuous stream of ground-breaking work is as good an example as you’ll ever find.
18. Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women. Elizabeth Blackwell, 1895
19. The Excellent Doctor Blackwell: The Life of the First Woman Physician. Julia Boyd, 2013
Everybody should have a Blackwell book somewhere on the shelves. There are a few out there, but this one is perhaps my favorite.
20. Harriet Brooks: Pioneer Nuclear Scientist. Marelene & Geoffrey Rayner-Canham, 1995
The Rayner-Canhams are LEGENDS in the world of women scientist research, and this book is one of my favorites, not only because Harriet Brooks’s story has such dizzying highs and abysmally Babbittish lows, but because it is written with such obvious care and admiration.
21. Mary Ingraham Bunting: Her Two Lives. Elaine Yaffe, 2005
22. Betsy Cadwaladyr: A Balaclava Nurse. An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis. Betsy Cadwaladyr, 1857
Cadwaladyr’s story is an exotic adventure of the type no longer possible, and is worth reading just to see how much living could be crammed into a life back when people guarded their time less dearly.
23. Helen Caldicott: A Desperate Passion, An Autobiography. Helen Caldicott, 1996
24. In the Footsteps of Columbus. Annie J. Cannon, 1893
The few pages of introductory biography about Annie Jump Cannon in this curious, long out of print volume are still the best source for sustained information about Cannon that you’ll get.
25. The Epigenetics Revolution. Nessa Carey, 2012
26. Junk DNA. Nessa Carey, 2015
27. Rachel Carson, Witness for Nature. Linda Lear, 1997
28. Margaret the First: A Biography of Margaret Cavendish Duchess of Newcastle. Douglas Grant, 1957
A writer of grand science fantasy from the 17th century, she took on Descartes and Hobbes as intellectual equals and shamed them both. Grant captures the high drama of the English Civil War and Cavendish’s unique place within it, as well as the acts of high fancy and scientific curiosity that led her to such unique success in British academic life.
29. Seduced by Logic: Emilie Du Chatelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution. Robyn Arianrhod, 2011
I still hate the title, but dearly love the book. Somerville and Chatelet are two first-rank heroes of mathematics and of the subtle art of bringing the cutting edge of scientifico-mathematical research to the public.
30. Insects: Their Secret World. Evelyn Cheesman, 1952
31. Spectral Graph Theory. Fan Chung, 1994
You won’t find out anything about Fan Chung’s life from this, but you might learn some spectral graph theory, and that’s worth it all by itself.
32. Doctor Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity. Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, 2005
She was a national celebrity representing the friendship between China and the United States during the Second World War, only to become a liability in the dark ages of the Cold War, but her story as a successful doctor and cultural symbol is so wonderfully improbable that you can give this paper to just about anybody with confidence that they’ll enjoy it.
33. Lady With a Spear. Eugenie Clark, 1951
This is one of those foundational books in the history of women in science. So many modern marine biologists cite it as a profound influence on them, and their ability to imagine themselves as scientists, and its sense of wonder and awe are still plainly there for those who seek it.
34. The Lady and the Sharks. Eugenie Clark, 2010
35. Agnes Mary Clerke & The Rise of Astrophysics. Mary Bruck, 2002
Great science writers don’t often get their due, but this book about Clerke shows us just how important a pillar of scientific thought she was, bringing together through her writings and correspondence an entire world of astrophysical research.
36. NMR and Biochemistry: A Symposium Honoring Mildred Cohn. S.J. Opella, 1979
37. Handbook of Nature Study. Anna Bostford Comstock, 1939
Comstock’s massive text aimed at showing science teachers ways to communicate the majesty of nature to their students through guided outdoor investigations, and as such might have had a greater impact on the improvement of science education than any other book in the 20th century and, hey, it’s still available!
38. Crucible of Science: The Story of the Cori Laboratory. John H. Exton, 2013
39. For the Love of Enzymes. Arthur Kornberg, 1989
40. Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H.M. Suzanne Corkin, 2013
Corkin’s methods have come under scrutiny since her recent passing, but this scientific memoir detailing her decades of scientific interaction with the patient H.M. is a chilling classic of just how thin a wire our sense of self is balanced upon.
41. Irene Joliot-Curie. Noelle Loriot, 1991
I suspect that, no matter how many more books about women scientists I read in my life, this one will always be in my top 10. Brisk and charming, it brings Irene bursting to life as both a scientist and a fascinating, energetic, frustrating, brilliant human being. It is in French but, as with Barre-Sinoussi, the language is clear and jargon-free so should be accessible to just about anyone.
42. Madam Curie: A Biography. Eve Curie, 1937
The first, and still one of the best.
43. Grand Obsession: Madame Curie and Her World. Rosalyn Pflaum, 1989
44. Marie Curie: A Life. Susan Quinn, 1995
Still my favorite Marie Curie biography. Quinn, who we’ll meet again later, is a rigorous researcher, and her rich evocation of Polish life and education under the thumb of the tsar is a tour de force performance.
45. Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie. Barbara Goldsmith, 2005
46. Emma Darwin: The Inspirational Wife of a Genius. Edna Healey, 2001
I’ll be honest, this one has sat on the shelves year after year and I always find a reason to read something else instead of it. Maybe it’s the title. I’d like to think I’m not that superficial, but I also know that I definitely am.
47. The Zuni Enigma: A Native American People’s Possible Japanese Connection. Nancy Yaw Davis, 2000
48. “Zwar sind es weibliche Haende”: Die Botanikerin und Paedagogin Catharina Helena Dörrien (1717-1795). Regina Viereck, 2000
Dörrien was an internationally respected scientist during the 1700s whose reputation faded to near nothingness in the centuries to follow. Viereck has brought her back to life again in this wonderful book, however, and if you have German as a language you read easily, this is a key book to have.
49. A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution. Jennifer Doudna & Samuel Sternberg, 2017
Doudna and Charpentier’s development of CRISPR gene editing technology will probably, when all is said and done, be the century’s landmark development in biology, and to hear its genesis and refinement detailed by Doudna herself is an opportunity not to be missed.
50. A Passion for Space: Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller. Marianne J. Dyson, 2016
Another book that is hard to find, but as a portrait of what it was like to be a NASA flight controller in the years when NASA was just figuring out what its policy about women was it is indispensable in the history of gender in science and space exploration.
51. Alice Eastwood’s Wonderland: The Adventures of a Botanist. Carol Green Wilson, 1955
52. Mileva Einstein: Une Vie. Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric, 1988
This is the French translation of Trbuhovic-Gjuric’s incredibly controversial work on Albert Einstein’s first wife. The original is in German, but every time I have looked for it it is far outside of my price range. The debate has moved on since this work first debuted, but as an introduction to the central issues it is indispensable.
53. Dorothea Christiana Erxleben: Weibliche Gelehrsamkeit und medizinische Profession seit dem 18. Jahrhundert. Eva Brinkschulte, 2006
THIS book. As a reference of the state of 18th century medicine as professionalization shoved experienced and skilled local practitioners to the periphery, and as a source on the fantastic life of an 18th century woman pioneer, it is a great source, but whoever did the page layout should be flung into the Howling Abyss.
54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside. Katrina Firlik, 2006
55. Gorillas in the Mist. Dian Fossey, 1983
Required Reading. That is all.
56. Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey and the Mountain Gorillas of Africa. Farley Mowat, 1987
Mowat attempts to piece together the magnificent life and brutal death of Fossey in a book that is a moving tribute to her spirit and condemnation of the greed, both academic and economic, of those around her.
57. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. Brenda Maddox, 2002
Is it my favorite book ever about any woman scientist? It is. Poignant and scientifically thorough, it’s a book I’ll come back to every five years and find new things to enjoy. If you get just one book on this list, it should be this one.
58. Anna Freud: A Biography. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, 1988
Young-Bruehl rescued Anna Freud from the depths of the Freud wars in this sympathetic and compelling book about her massive significance in the treatment of children suffering from violence and isolation. It’s a book that shows the psychoanalytic method at its very best.
59. A Passion for Physics: The Story of a Woman Physicist. Joan Freeman, 1991
60. The Woman Who Smashed Codes. Jason Fagone, 2017
61. Viral Oncogenesis and Cell Differentiation: The Contributions of Charlotte Friend. Leila Diamond, ed, 1989
62. Reflections of Eden: My Years with the Orangutans of Borneo. Birute M. F. Galdikas, 1995
If you have a student in your life who doubts that they can handle the hardships of field work, these memoirs by Galdikas are an inspiration in fortitude. Physical illness, emotional betrayal, governmental conspiracy, Galdikas faced them all and came out having rewritten the reputation of the orangutan’s world.
63. Prime Mystery: The Life and Mathematics of Sophie Germain. Dora E. Musielak, 2015
Musielak has written a fictional account of Germain’s life which I keep telling myself I’ll pick up but haven’t gotten around to yet. This is a straight up biography, and does a great job explaining the complicated tale of Germain’s mathematical endeavors as she sought to gain recognition by solving problems via correspondence with Europe’s great minds under the name of a man.
64. Jellyfish: Their Natural History. Lisa-Ann Gershwin, 2016
65. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth: Partners for Life. Edna Yost, 1949
There were people who wrote about women in science before Yost, but she was the first who made the study of the subject her life’s work. Most of her books are collections of profiles of groundbreaking women in science and some of those are, sadly, still our only source of substance for those women, but in this work she concentrated on the industrial psychological work of Lillian Gilbreth, and it is a wonderful story. Edna Yost is my Stan Lee when it comes to women in science, and every time I can get her books in people’s hands I’m happy.
66. Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth – A Life Beyond “Cheaper By the Dozen.” Jane Lancaster, 2004
67. Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man. Dale Peterson, 2006
Another top 5 book for me, Peterson’s account of Goodall’s life is brimming with colorful characters and psychological insight. As much as you love Jane Goodall now (and we all do), you will love her all the more when you read this beautiful book.
68. Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters. Barbara Sicherman, 1984
69. The Fungus Fighters: Two Women Scientists and Their Discovery. Richard S. Baldwin, 1981
This is a dual biography of Hazen & Brown, the women who discovered the world’s first reliable, non-toxic anti-fungal treatment at a time when it was dreadfully necessary. Baldwin covers the key years of their work, but then goes into equal detail of their engagement with industry and development of new foundations which gives insight into the practical side of the science industry that most biographies don’t delve into.
70. The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel’s Astronomical Ambition. Claire Brock, 2007
71. Caroline Herschel: Priestess of the New Heavens. Michael Hoskin, 2013
When it comes to the profoundly talented Herschel family, Hoskin is the source. He’s devoted a life and several volumes to detailing their various gifts, and this stand alone book about Caroline carries all the excitement and grit of modern astronomy’s second great age.
72. The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell. Rachel Herz, 2007
73. The Stars Belong to Everyone: How to Enjoy Astronomy. Helen Sawyer Hogg, 1976
Before we had Sagan, we had Hogg. She made the night sky come alive in her work, and you can see all that descriptive poetry mixed with hard science in this volume of hers. Hard to find in the wild, you can still get copies on Alibris for a song.
74. Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life. Georgina Ferry, 2014
I believe this was Ferry’s first book, which is astounding as it is a damn near perfect mixture of scientific investigation with narrative pluck and profundity. A great present for that researcher in your life who has had to spend years chipping away at the same problem.
75. The Psychology of the Adolescent. Leta Hollingworth, 1930
76. A Forgotten Voice: A Biography of Leta Stetter Hollingworth. Ann G. Klein, 2002
Hollingworth is one of Women in Science’s more problematic figures. Her contributions to education and work disproving several of the reigning biological assumptions about women’s ability to work are of everlasting value, even as her personal views bordering on the eugenicist are deeply troubling. She is a complex figure it does anybody well to ponder over.
77. Boundless Horizons: Portrait of a Pioneer Woman Scientist. Icie Gertrude Macy Hoobler, 1982
Hoobler is one of those people that people go from having never heard to absolutely loving in the space of five minutes. As the primary researcher behind the study of infant nutrition and the chemical makeup of breast milk, she had a tremendous and still undersung impact on the health of the human community.
78. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age. Kurt W. Beyer, 2012
79. A Mind of Her Own: The Life of Karen Horney. Susan Quinn, 1987
Like I said before with regards to her Curie biography, Quinn is a writer who digs deep. In the case of Curie, that depth revealed itself in a complex recasting of Polish society. In this one, it comes out as an in-depth investigation into Horney’s complicated romantic life which certainly had an impact on her psychoanalytic theory and impact, but I would have liked some of that intensity to go towards her early intellectual history too. Still, it’s a great damn book.
80. Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy. Barbara J. Becker, 2011
I think this ended up costing me $70 (for a second hand copy at that) but now it’s available in paperback for a mere $50. Is it worth it? I’d say so, because Becker’s tale of the development and importance of spectroscopy for astronomy, and Margaret and William’s central place in that story, is a central tale in modern science worth the entrance fee.
81. The Invertebrates (5 volumes). Libbie Henrietta Hyman, 1940
I have a soft spot in my heart for entomologists, and Hyman is the entomologist’s entomologist. Her encyclopaedic knowledge of not only insects, but the entire spectrum of the invertebrates, is legendary, and nowhere on better display than in these volumes. They’re not precisely light reading, but as a testament to one life devoted to sifting and sorting the grand complexity of terrestrial biology there are few better.
82. Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr. Michael A.B. Deakin, 2007
I like this book not only as a look at the people who fought to preserve the mathematics of classical antiquity against the encroaching darkness of religious fanaticism, but also because in the appendices Deakin has reproduced the only original sources we have as to how precisely Hypatia died.
83. Der Fall Clara Immerwahr: Leben fuer eine humane Wissenschaft. Gerit von Leitner, 1993
It’s a tragic tale from the midst of the first World War that deserves a full telling in English but that has yet to get that, so von Leitner remains our best source on this side of the pond.
84. The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake. Margaret Todd
85. Sophia Jex-Blake: A Woman Pioneer in Nineteenth-Century Medical Reform. Shirley Roberts, 1993
86. The Life of Dr. Anandabai Joshee, A Kinswoman of the Pundita Ramabai. Caroline Healey Dall, 1888
Dall knew Dr. Joshee, and her biography of India’s first woman doctor is a deeply sympathetic one and is still, a century and change later, our best source for information in the English language about this historically important woman who died far too soon.
87. It’s Never Too Late to Love. Anna Kleegman Daniels, 1953
Seventy years later, and Daniels’s message is still one we struggle with: that elderly women do not need to give up sex on account of their age, and that the rest of the world better damn well get used to the idea.
88. My Mother, the Doctor. Joy Daniels Singer, 1970
Singer’s biography of her mother, Anna Kleegman Daniels, is told with joy and loving exasperation, a tribute to a woman who devoted her life to the mental and physical well-being of women everywhere. It’s an at times madcap adventure centered on an irresistible figure.
89. A Woman Wanders through Life and Science. Irena Koprowska, 1997
90. Marian E. Koshland, 1921-1997: Oral History Transcript: Retrospectives on a life in Academic Science, Family, and Community Activities. 2003
91. Sonya Kovalevsky. A. Carlotta Leffler, 1895
Sonya was the name that Sofia Kovalevskaya’s friends knew her by, and Leffler was one such. In her biography, long out of print but absolutely crucial for the history of women in science, we get not only Kovalevskaya the mathematician, but the novelist, intellectual free spirit, and tragic romantic as well. Good luck finding an original copy but if you do, it will be a treasure at the center of your collection.
92. Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr. Richard Rhodes, 2011
93. Disclosing the Past: An Autobiography. Mary Leakey, 1984
94. Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe. George Johnson, 2005
Johnson makes the race to measure the universe palpably exciting, and locates Henrietta Swan Leavitt’s contributions directly at the center of that drama, where it should be
95. In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work. Rita Levi-Montalcini. 1988
This is quite possibly the best memoir by a woman scientist that there is. Levi-Montalcini can not only bring the chaos and desperation of wartime research vividly to life, but has a gift for psychological portraiture that makes the world of mid century biological research very, and richly, human.
96. How the Universe Got its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space. Janna Levin, 2002
97. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Volume 21. 1975
These memoirs are a rich source of information for many women scientists whose lives aren’t covered elsewhere. I hope to collect them all some day, but as a start volume 21 is nice because it has Kathleen Lonsdale in it, who hasn’t been given a full treatment elsewhere as of yet.
98. Ada The Enchantress of Numbers: Prophet of the Computer Age. Betty Alexandra Toole, 1992
99. Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age. James Essinger, 2014
100. The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox. Jennifer Lee Carrell, 2003
The story of Lady Mary Montagu bringing smallpox inoculation from Turkey and fighting to gain acceptance for it in England is one of those great untold tales of scientific history, and Carrell tells it with fitting panache. AND you also get the story of inoculation’s hard-fought introduction into the United States, decades before the introduction of vaccination, so, Bonus!
101. Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel. Dorion Sagan, ed., 2012
Margulis’s creation of endosymbiosis theory was a landmark in our theory of how complex life originated on this planet, and this book is a good introduction to the battle Margulis undertook to gain acceptance for it.
102. Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate. Jennifer A. Mather, 2010
Octopuses are awesome. The more books about octopuses you own, the awesomer you are. Buy this book about octopuses.
103. A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. Evelyn Fox Keller, 1983
This is a tough one to talk about. It is one of those landmark works in the history of science that everybody knows and references to the exclusion of anything that has come since, resulting in a highly distorted view of McClintock’s life that leaves out many of its complicated and frankly dark aspects. I think it’s one that everybody needs to have, but at the same time, you also need a more recent book that takes advantage of what we have learned since. Speaking of which….
104. The Tangled Field: Barbara McClintock’s Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control. Nathaniel Comfort, 2001
This is the counterbalance to Keller, presenting a very convincing case for the idea that many of the elements of the traditional McClintock story are largely fictitious, and stand in dire need of correction. The first chapter can probably be skipped, but everything after that is key reading.
105. Coming of Age in Samoa. Margaret Mead, 1928
A cornerstone of modern anthropology that changed how the public interfaced with this field, and put Mead’s name on the lips of a nation.
106. Margaret Mead A Biography. Mary Bowman-Kruhm, 2003
107. Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics. Ruth Lewin Sime, 1996
Physics biographies are tricky, and Sime’s account of Meitner takes some big risks that I think pay off beautifully. Twenty years on, it’s still the standard book to have about Meitner, and I suspect will remain so for some time yet.
108. Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis. Kim Todd, 2007
If I’m not shoving a copy of Dark Lady of DNA into somebody’s hands, it’s because I’m shoving this one instead. A great telling of Merian’s life, it is also a rich evocation of the Dutch intellectual community during its great age. It also contains a rich array of Merian’s beautiful original artwork, so it’s a delight for the eyes as much as for the brain.
109. Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer among the American Romantics. Renee Bergland, 2008
This is a story that begins as a feel-good tale of a small corner of 19th century American life where women were valued as intellectual equals, as Bergland takes us deep into the Quaker community life of that era, and ends in deep frustration as Maria Mitchell lives to see her intellectual descendents pushed from astronomy by men seeking recognition.
110. Maria Montessori: A Biography. Rita Kramer, 1976
For all her impact on education, there is not nearly enough written about the life of Maria Montessori, and her troubling evolution from education reformer to institutional quasi-despot. Kramer’s book tells that story masterfully, and forms a nice educational bookend with the Hollingworth title above.
111. Portraits in the Wild: Behavior Studies of East African Mammals. Cynthia Moss, 1975
112. Emmy Noether’s Wonderful Theorem. Dwight E. Neuenschwander, 2011
Wonderful is a good word. If you aren’t up on your calculus this book will be tough going but if you have it, going through the work, following in Noether’s footsteps, is a rare intellectual delight.
113. Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development. Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, 2006
114. The Monarch Butterfly: Biology and Conservation. Karen S. Oberhauser, ed. 2004
115. A Woman’s Quest for Science: Portrait of Anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons. Peter H. Hare, 1985
116. Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life. Desley Deacon, 1997
117. The Education of Koko. Francine Patterson & Eugene Linden, 1981
One of the first women in science books I ever picked up, and a favorite still, Patterson’s story of teaching sign language to a gorilla and battling for recognition of her intellectual abilities represents a poignant expression of the close interaction between man and animal that is possible when preconceptions are left behind.
118. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography and other recollections. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, 1984
Payne-Gaposchkin’s story is that of many, many women in early 20th century science, a tale of correct ideas forced out of publication by individual men who were threatened by them. Her prose is beautiful, and the supplementary material is pretty nice too, so it’s definitely a book to flag down.
119. Making Waves: The Story of Ruby Payne-Scott: Australian Pioneer Radio Astronomer. W.M. Goss, 2013
This is Goss’s second book about Payne-Scott, and to him goes all the credit for unearthing her story and making it available to a larger public.
120. Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants. Katy Payne, 1998
Payne is a figure for whom I dearly wish there were more resources available, particularly a greater look at her work with whale song, some of which is contained in the book by her husband listed below.
121. Among Whales. Roger Payne, 1995
122. Edith Pechey-Phipson, MD: The Story of England’s Foremost Pioneering Woman Doctor. Edythe Lutzker, 1973
123. Stranger and Friend: The Way of an Anthropologist. Hortense Powdermaker, 1966
Powdermaker brought the techniques of anthropology to the analysis of modern civilizations, with surprising results. Any of her books is worth getting, but in this one volume you get peeks into all of her different campaigns, illuminating the social structures of everything from the Deep South to modern African mining communities to the tribal structures of Hollywood.
124. The Dolphin in the Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds and Saving Dolphin Lives. Diana Reiss, 2011
125. Julia: A Life in Mathematics. Constance Reid, 1996
126. Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food. Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak, 2008
With all the exaggerated rhetoric surrounding the issue of genetically modified foods what is most needed is somebody able to rationally and calmly discuss the issues involved, the risks, and the benefits, and this book by Pamela Ronald, whose work with rice has prevented the starvation of thousands, fills that role admirably.
127. Bright Galaxies Dark Matters. Vera Rubin, 1997
128. Florence Sabin: Colorado Woman of the Century. Elinor Bluemel
129. Probing the Unknown: The Story of Dr. Florence Sabin. Mary Kay Phelan, 1969
130. Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion. Jean H. Baker, 2011
Like Hollingworth, Sanger is a complicated figure who performed a massive public good in giving women control of their reproductive destiny for the first time in human history, but whose reputation has often been marred by variously controversial personal beliefs. Baker sympathetically investigates all corners of Sanger’s life to erect a truly compelling tale of a person possessed of deep passions and deeper reserves of will and fortitude.
131. Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh & Roger Lewin, 1994
It’s Koko, for bonobos! It’s actually much more than that, but as elevator pitches go, that’s not a bad one.
132. Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses From Myth to Reality. Helen Scales, 2009
Helen Scales is the Sagan of the sea at the moment, crafting irresistible glimpses into the ocean’s history and creatures. You can give her books to just about anybody and they will adore them.
133. Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells. Helen Scales, 2015
134. Loki Schmidt: Die Biographie. Reiner Lehberger, 2014
135. Go For Orbit: One of America’s First Women Astronauts Finds Her Space. Rhea Seddon, 2015
Part of the original group of astronauts that included Sally Ride, Seddon served on Discovery and Columbia logging 700 hours of time in orbit. This is the story of those early space shuttle missions, and what it was like for that first generation of NASA women astronauts.
136. Let IT Go: The Story of the Entrepreneur Turned Ardent Philanthropist. Dame Stephanie Shirley, 2012
A brilliant story of one woman’s revolutionary software company model combined with a tragic tale of a family stretched to the point of breaking by a case of severe autism in a country that had no resources to support it, this is a book of brain and heart.
137. Sex Vs. Survival: The Life and Ideas of Sabina Spielrein. John Launer, 2014
138. The Woman Who Founded Ecology: Ellen Swallow. Robert Clarke, 1973
I suppose there will always be nostalgia for books that I read when I was just starting this column, but I think that even without that this book by Robert Clarke is essential reading. Swallow founded so many fields in industrial and ecological research, and played such a major role in forcing our attention to the content of our air, water, food, and household environment that her story can’t be told enough, and Clarke’s telling is done with all the fervor of an era that was just beginning to rediscover the critical need for more environmental awareness.
139. Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Sarah Scoles, 2017
Whatever became of SETI? Is it still a thing? Whether you love Contact, which features a protagonist modeled after Jill Tarter, or you are simply curious about the history of our attempt to scan the skies for signs of extraterrestrial signals, this is an engaging book about an aspect of science that is all too often exploded to the sensational.
140. Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock. Vivien T. Thomas, 1985
141. Alfred Blalock, Helen Taussig & Vivien Thomas: Mending Children’s Hearts. Lisa Yount, 2012
142. Olga Taussky-Todd: In Memoriam. Michael Aschbacher & Others, 1988
Proof of how careful you need to be with academic In Memoriam collections. Sometimes they are great, and include thoughtful and somewhat detailed appreciations of the person they are purportedly about, like the above work on Mildred Cohn or Charlotte Friend. Sometimes they just stuff a two page summary in the middle of a bunch of papers about scientific topics related to the field the subject worked in and call it good enough. That is the case here.
143. Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor. Hali Felt, 2012
144. My Daughter Beatrice: A Personal Memoir of Dr. Beatrice Tinsley, Astronomer. Edward Hill, 1986
145. The Trotula: An English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine. Monica H. Green, 2001
This book is boundlessly fascinating. Medieval medicine is a trip at any time, but medieval women’s medicine is an absolute horror show, so seeing a woman (Trota of Salerno) of the era seizing control and advocating for an approach to women’s treatment centered around the practical and efficacious rather than the theoretically fashionable is a pretty great thing.
146. Madame Wu Chien-Shiung: The First Lady of Physics Research. Chiang Tsai-Chien, 2014
147. Rosalyn Yalow: Nobel Laureate. Her Life and Work in Medicine. Eugene Straus, 1998
You can add Yalow to McClintock and Hollingworth on the list of Women Scientists With a Dark Side. Her science was ground-breaking, but her research methods partook of her era’s disdain for informing volunteers about the procedures they were undergoing. An intensely driven human who developed methods that have saved countless lives, her story is a gripping one, and Straus captures it well.
148. Tu Youyou and the Discovery of Artemisinin. Yi Rao & Others, 2017
I’ve said it before, and I stand by it. My least favorite biography of a woman scientist ever. Tu Youyou’s story is a fascinating one, but you wouldn’t know it from this book.
149. Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space. Lynn Sherr, 2015
Shouldn’t this be in the R section? Yes, very astute. Only it wasn’t on its usual place on the shelf because my daughter snagged it to read, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to put it back in and redo all the numbering. Anyway, it’s a book about Sally Ride. What else do you possibly need to know? Get it!
150. The Illustrated Women in Science:Volumes 1, 2 and 3. Dale DeBakcsy, 2015-2017
And Volume 4 is on the way! I should probably feel some degree of shame for blatantly putting my own books in this list of otherwise timeless classics but, darn it, I can’t buy new books to tell you all about if I don’t sell copies of my own, so here I am throwing them at you again. I think they are pretty fun.
And that is that! Next time I’ll talk about the other bookshelf, where all the collections and general histories live. But this ought to get you started!