The Best Books About Women In STEM

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Margot Lee Shetterly

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.


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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot

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.


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

By Denise Kiernan

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.


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

By Liza Mundy

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.


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

By Janice P. Nimura

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.


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