The best books about women in STEM

Who am I?

I am a nationally published news and features writer who has written about a wide variety of topics for TIME, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, People, Allure, Thomson Reuters, Glamour, Pregnancy, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Magazine and Palm Beach Illustrated. I am also the author of two books, both about little-known feisty women who have made their mark on history. Writing about people’s lives is, quite simply, a joy of mine, and an honor I don’t take lightly.


I wrote...

Overnight Code: The Life of Raye Montague, the Woman Who Revolutionized Naval Engineering

By Paige Bowers,

Book cover of Overnight Code: The Life of Raye Montague, the Woman Who Revolutionized Naval Engineering

What is my book about?

The book tells the story of Raye Montague, an ambitious little girl from segregated Little Rock who spent a lifetime educating herself, both inside and outside of the classroom so that she could become the person and professional she aspired to be. Where some saw roadblocks, Montague only saw hurdles that needed to be overcome. Her mindset helped her become the first person to draft a Naval ship design by computer, using a program she worked late nights to debug. She did this as a single mother during the height of the Cold War, all the while imbuing her son with the hard-won wisdom she had accumulated throughout the years.

Equal parts coming-of-age tale, civil rights history, and reflection on the power of education, Overnight Code is a tale about the persistence and perseverance required to forge the life of your dreams when the odds against you seem insurmountable and shows how one woman refused to let other people's prejudices stand in the way of her success.

The books I picked & why

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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Book cover of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Why this book?

Ever since 1962, we’ve been captivated by John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, where he became the first person to orbit Earth, and, after that, a hero for his feat. Hidden Figures shines a long-overdue light on the Black female mathematicians who not only made Glenn’s journey possible, but fueled successive American achievements in space. With a history that spans from World War II to the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, the book traces the stories – and struggles -- of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, all of whom made possible some of NASA’s greatest triumphs, changing their lives and their country’s future along the way.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Hidden Figures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Golden Globe-winner Taraji P. Henson and Academy Award-winners Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA's African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America's space program-and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now. Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as "Human Computers," calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American…


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot,

Book cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Why this book?

Henrietta Lacks was a Black tobacco farmer who got an aggressive form of cervical cancer. After a doctor at Johns Hopkins took a sample of her tumor, he quietly sent it down the hall to some scientists who had been trying to grow tissues in culture with little success. Lacks died, but her cells – which became known as HeLa – lived on, and became instrumental in the development of a polio vaccine, and several other scientific landmarks such as cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization. Skloot’s story is a wonderful passion project, and a quest to figure out who Lacks was in her time. In so doing, Skloot illustrates the life behind those famous cells.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by author of The Tidal Zone, Sarah Moss

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells - taken without her knowledge - became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta's family did not learn of her 'immortality' until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . .

Rebecca Skloot's fascinating account is the story of the life, and afterlife, of one woman who changed the medical world for ever. Balancing the beauty and drama…


The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

By Denise Kiernan,

Book cover of The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

Why this book?

I’ve long been a fan of Denise Kiernan’s work, which is as scrupulously researched as it is beautifully written. The Girls of Atomic City is about Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II, and how women became a central force in building community in this town that didn’t exist before the war, and among people who moved here and many times didn’t know what a crucial, but secret, project they were working on. The town may not have been on a map, but it would soon be after the uranium unknowingly mined there by female calutron operators wound up being used in the Manhattan Project’s effort to develop nuclear weaponry. Kiernan provides a fascinating look at this moment in time, proving that all Americans were involved in the country’s ultimate victory.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

By Denise Kiernan,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Girls of Atomic City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—an incredible true story of the top-secret World War II town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the young women brought there unknowingly to help build the atomic bomb.

“The best kind of nonfiction: marvelously reported, fluidly written, and a remarkable story...As meticulous and brilliant as it is compulsively readable.” —Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City

At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, and consumed more electricity than New York City, yet it was shrouded in such secrecy that it did not…


Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

By Liza Mundy,

Book cover of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

Why this book?

Anytime we can shine a light on a hidden corner of history, it expands our understanding of who we are and what we’re capable of accomplishing. In Code Girls, Liza Mundy tells the riveting story of the young American women who were recruited to crack codes for the U.S. Army and Navy during World War II. Their work saved countless lives, gave the U.S. an advantage in the Pacific in the Battle of Midway, and caught the Germans flat-footed during the Normandy landings. Like Kiernan, Mundy is a great researcher, and she was able to interview the remaining codebreakers who were a part of this story, but compelled to keep mum on the crucial part they played in the war until only recently.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II

By Liza Mundy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Code Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An expert on East European politics and economics analyzes and evaluates Western policies toward the new East European democracies as they struggle to build stable political orders and functioning market economies. He argues that the West must give higher priority to assisting the region and reorient its strategies so as to emphasize the political and administrative dimensions of economic reconstruction. He reviews the economic legacy of past Western policies and of Eastern Europe's previous dependency on the Soviet Union, and then examines in detail the changing East-West trade patterns, the prospect for Western investment and technology transfer, the questions of…


The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

By Janice P. Nimura,

Book cover of The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

Why this book?

Janice Nimura dips into one of her first interests – medicine – to tell a novelistic story about Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, two groundbreaking sisters from the nineteenth century who became doctors, thus expanding women’s sense of what they could accomplish in the world. Their road was not an easy one. Men bristled at the thought of having to endure a med school class with a woman, or of possibly losing female patients to a female doctor. But through grit and determination, these siblings were able to overcome those obstacles and open the first hospital staffed entirely with women. It’s a wonderful, well-researched read, and a reference point to how far women have come in the medical profession.

The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine

By Janice P. Nimura,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Doctors Blackwell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of "ordinary" womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician.

Exploring the sisters' allies, enemies, and enduring partnership, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph. Together,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in women in mathematics, female doctors, and cancer?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about women in mathematics, female doctors, and cancer.

Women In Mathematics Explore 11 books about women in mathematics
Female Doctors Explore 19 books about female doctors
Cancer Explore 84 books about cancer

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Woman of No Importance, The Devil in the White City, and This Republic of Suffering if you like this list.