The best books about women in mathematics

19 authors have picked their favorite books about women in mathematics and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Hidden Figures

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

I’m a science writer and love to read and write about history’s hidden figures—especially women in science, art, and technology. Margot Lee Shetterly masterfully blends the biographies of five brave Black female mathematicians with the stories of America’s space program and the Space Race. Hidden Figures is a wonderful, inspiring book that illuminates an era bursting with creativity but weighed down by discrimination, introducing readers to a new group of American heroes.  

Hidden Figures

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…

Who am I?

I adore non-fiction books that read like novels. After ten years of working in research labs, my master’s degree in biology led me to a new career in science writing. I recently dove into the worlds of narrative non-fiction and history when I wrote Radiant, the Dancer, The Scientist and a Friendship Forged in Light. Immersing myself in Belle Époque Paris to research and intertwine the stories of Marie Curie and the inventor/dancer Loie Fuller helped me discover a passion for telling the stories of important figures forgotten by history. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Radiant: The Dancer, the Scientist, and a Friendship Forged in Light

What is my book about?

At the turn of the century, Paris was a hotbed of creativity. Technology boomed, delivering to the world electric light, the automobile, and new ways to treat disease, while imagination blossomed, creating Art Nouveau, motion pictures, and modernist literature. A pivotal figure during this time, yet largely forgotten today, Loie Fuller was an American performance artist who became a living symbol of the Art Nouveau movement with her hypnotic dances and stunning theatrical effects. Credited today as the pioneer of modern dance, she was perennially broke, never took no for an answer, spent most of her life with a female partner, and never questioned her drive. She was a visionary, a renegade, and a loyal friend.

The Glass Universe

By Dava Sobel,

Book cover of The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

This is a very readable account of a group of women working on a project at Harvard University’s observatory in the late nineteenth century. The project involved studying glass-plate negatives of the sky and in doing so learning more about the night sky, the composition of stars, and their evolution. Through the story of these women, Sobel shows the extent to which the university supported and nurtured them, it also brilliantly brings to life these women using their own words to show their awareness of certain injustices. This book is a great way into to understanding science as it properly is: more often than not collaborative and collective rather than the isolating work of a stereotypical lone genius. It is also a great story, engagingly told.

The Glass Universe

By Dava Sobel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Glass Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Dava Sobel, the "inspiring" (People), little-known true story of women's landmark contributions to astronomy

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Economist, Smithsonian, Nature, and NPR's Science Friday

Nominated for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

"A joy to read." -The Wall Street Journal

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or "human computers," to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the…

Who am I?

Formerly curator of astronomy at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, I am an occasional writer and researcher and a now full-time primary school teacher in the north of England.  My popular books include The Stargazer’s Guide and The Quiet Revolution of Caroline Herschel; I have also contributed to various academic publications, including a paper on William Herschel for Notes & Records of the Royal Society which won their 2014 Essay Award.


I wrote...

The Quiet Revolution of Caroline Herschel: The Lost Heroine of Astronomy

By Emily Winterburn,

Book cover of The Quiet Revolution of Caroline Herschel: The Lost Heroine of Astronomy

What is my book about?

Caroline Herschel was a quiet, unassuming, always accommodating eighteenth-century singer turned astronomer. She discovered several comets, nebulae, and star clusters and contributed in various ways to a family project that allowed her brother, William Herschel to become an astronomer so prolific and inventive he is sometimes termed the father of modern astrophysics. Curiously, much of the work that made Caroline her own name in astronomy took place in a 10-year period entirely missing from her journal.

My book looks at those 10 years, in part to celebrate that work which made her the first woman ever published in the Royal Society and a respected name across Europe, but also to understand why she decided to destroy the journal evidencing of her thoughts and feelings during that same period.

ADA Lovelace

By Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, Adrian Rice

Book cover of ADA Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist

Written by mathematicians with a great literary flair, and beautifully illustrated with archival materials, this most recent Lovelace book is a comprehensive and lively recounting of her genius and its consummation in her collaboration with Charles Babbage.  It should banish any lingering doubts about Lovelace’s ability to interpret Babbage’s invention (even better than he did, at times) and to envision the potential that could only be realized nearly 100 years after her tragically early death. 

If just one book is to be read about Ada (other than my own), this is it!

ADA Lovelace

By Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, Adrian Rice

Why should I read it?

1 author picked ADA Lovelace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ada, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron and his highly educated wife, Anne Isabella, is sometimes called the world's first computer programmer and has become an icon for women in technology. But how did a young woman in the nineteenth century, without access to formal school or university education, acquire the knowledge and expertise to become a pioneer of computer science?

Although an unusual pursuit for women at the time, Ada Lovelace studied science and mathematics from a young age. This book uses previously unpublished archival material to explore her precocious childhood, from her ideas for…

Who am I?

I’ve enjoyed a long career as an author-illustrator of picture books for children. I search for stories of girls and women whose greatness has been overlooked: - Caroline Herschel, pioneering astronomer, - Oney Judge, the slave who escaped from George and Martha Washington, - Margaret Knight, the inventor who fought the man who tried to steal her idea and won in court - and Lizzie Murphy, the big-league baseball star. Every one of them had to overcome centuries of fierce resistance to female empowerment. A few of my biographies began as picture books, but their subjects quickly outgrew that format.


I wrote...

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business - And Won!

By Emily Arnold McCully,

Book cover of Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business - And Won!

What is my book about?

Tarbell’s brave, scrupulous, serial expose of Rockefeller in McClure’s Magazine riveted the nation and led to the breakup of the Standard Oil monopoly. Her work made her the most famous woman in America. The only female Muckraker, Tarbell was born in Western Pennsylvania just as oil was discovered there. During her early years, Oil came to dominate the industry and seep into every other aspect of modern life. Using predatory and illegal tactics, John D Rockefeller came to dominate Oil.

As a single woman in a hyper-masculine age, Tarbell found a way to be one of the boys, and was uniquely respected for her views on issues of the day. She is a complex, flawed, but admirable model for girls and young women drawn to journalism, or the history of ascendancies over a world stubbornly shaped by male entitlement.

ADA Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine

By Laurie Wallmark, April Chu (illustrator),

Book cover of ADA Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine

Picture books are a unique genre because there are really three people who participate in telling the story – the author, the illustrator, and the children who are reading and/or listening. With each page turn, ADA Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine brings us to another time and allows us to become part of that history – a time before computers and other electronic devices proliferated our lives and before women in science were accepted. The lush illustrations and the lyrical text capture my heart each time I read this book, and I love how we get a small peek into the life of the main character’s famous parents, Lord Byron, and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke.

ADA Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine

By Laurie Wallmark, April Chu (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked ADA Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world's first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.


Who am I?

As a child, I loved stories about people who accomplished extraordinary things – I read our set of encyclopedias from cover to cover. Those first forays into research stood me in good stead when I started writing nonfiction picture books about people who believed that nothing is impossible if you can imagine it – people like Robert Goddard who climbed a cherry tree when he was 13 and looked at the moon and decided he was going to build a vehicle that could take people there. As a teacher and as a parent, I read picture books on a daily basis, and as a writer for children, I love sparking the curiosity of young readers.


I wrote...

From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves

By Vivian Kirkfield, Gilbert Ford (illustrator),

Book cover of From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves

What is my book about?

In a time when people believed flying was impossible, the Montgolfier brothers proved that the sky wasn’t the limit. When most thought horseback was the only way to race, Bertha and Karl Benz fired up their engines. From the invention of the bicycle to the first liquid-fuel propelled rocket, this collective biography tells the stories of the experiments, failures, and successes of visionaries who changed the way the world moves and sparks the curiosity of young children to think about what they might invent to make the world a better place.

Zero Sum Game

By S.L. Huang,

Book cover of Zero Sum Game

Many readers fear math, and this action-packed adventure may give you new reasons to fear it. The protagonist’s superpower is super-fast mental calculation that lets her dodge bullets and kick incredible quantities of butt in a fight. Even more devious minds are opposing her. If you’ve ever wondered what use your high school physics and calculus classes were, this novel offers some explanation, although you can appreciate the story without them. This is, and I cannot stress this enough, a fun and exciting tale that treats math like magic and totally gets away with doing so.

Zero Sum Game

By S.L. Huang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Zero Sum Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ZERO SUM GAME Best of Lists:
* Best Books of the Month at The Verge, Book Riot, Unbound Worlds, SYFY, & Kirkus
* The Mary Sue Book Club Pick
* Library Journal Best Debuts of Fall and Winter

A blockbuster near-future thriller, S.L. Huang's Zero Sum Game introduces a math-genius mercenary who finds herself being manipulated by someone possessing unimaginable power…

Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she'll take any job for the right…


Who am I?

I’ve always read speculative fiction for its new perspectives on reality. Now that I write it too, I appreciate the fabulous minds that create these unique views of our universe even more. Experience in higher education and instructional design led me to appreciate organization that flows at the speed and direction of thought. I adore a well-turned phrase and a well-built world, and I hope this list leads you to a new experience of that same joy.


I wrote...

Barbary Station

By R.E. Stearns,

Book cover of Barbary Station

What is my book about?

Adda and Iridian are newly-minted engineers but aren’t able to find any work in a solar system ruined by economic collapse after an interplanetary war. Desperate for employment, they hijack a colony ship and plan to join a famed pirate crew living in luxury at Barbary Station, an abandoned shipbreaking station in deep space.

But when they arrive there, nothing is as expected. The pirates aren’t living in luxury—they’re hiding in a makeshift base welded onto the station’s exterior hull. The artificial intelligence controlling the station’s security system is killing station residents and shooting down any ship that attempts to leave—so there’s no way out. Adda and Iridian have one chance to earn a place on the pirate crew: destroy the artificial intelligence.

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science

By Diane Stanley, Jessie Hartland (illustrator),

Book cover of Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer

The daughter of a poet and a scientific mother, Ada is shown growing up in the early 1800s with both imagination and a bent toward math. As a girl, she dreams of building a steam-powered flying horse. She’s fascinated by machines and eager to tour factories. Seeing how cards are used to set patterns for cloth on looms inspires her to create the first computer program. Whimsical illustrations adorn clear explanations of calculations. At the book’s end we see Ada in red-striped stockings and green goggles flying over symbols of some of what her ideas will bring to the world.

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science

By Diane Stanley, Jessie Hartland (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From nonfiction stars Diane Stanley and Jessie Hartland comes a beautifully illustrated biography of Ada Lovelace, who is known as the first computer programmer.
Two hundred years ago, a daughter was born to the famous poet, Lord Byron, and his mathematical wife, Annabella.
Like her father, Ada had a vivid imagination and a creative gift for connecting ideas in original ways. Like her mother, she had a passion for science, math, and machines. It was a very good combination. Ada hoped that one day she could do something important with her creative and nimble mind.
A hundred years before the…

Who am I?

I was a girl who looked under rocks. Besides caring about crawling things and forests, I liked to read and write about history, which became the passion I followed into college and a career. No regrets, but I sometimes wonder what might have become of me if an interest in science was more encouraged and I was nudged past my fear of math. 


I wrote...

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

By Jeannine Atkins,

Book cover of Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

What is my book about?

In Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math, free verse introduces some scientists who always found joy in math as well as those who found parts of it tough, but kept at it until they saw its beauty. Paths taken include astronomy, statistics, and physics, shown in the context of lives in which friendship and family matter a lot, too.

Counting on Katherine

By Helaine Becker, Dow Phumiruk (illustrator),

Book cover of Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13

I picked this book in part because many kids, including my own daughter, are fascinated by space and will be intrigued by Katherine Johnson calculating the course of moon landings. I also picked it because I very deliberately included a mathematician in Who Is a Scientist?, and I think mathematicians are often neglected in round-ups of books about scientists. My third reason is that this book does a great job of explaining the math that “human computers” like Katherine did, and why this math was important for NASA to send rockets into space.

Counting on Katherine

By Helaine Becker, Dow Phumiruk (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Counting on Katherine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Katherine Johnson, the mathematical genius who helped make the historic Apollo 11 moon landings possible and made sure that Apollo 13 returned home safely when the mission was in critical danger. Counting on Katherine is a beautiful biography, sure to inspire young readers.

Winner of the information book category of the UKLA Book Awards 2020.

As a child, Katherine loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about…


Who am I?

I am a former science teacher and science writer with a PhD in neuroscience. I have published thirty books for young readers, many with scientific themes. In elementary school, I was amazed by seeing pond water under a microscope. In high school, I sat in biology class feeling like my brain might explode from realizing how incredible it is that trillions of tiny cells work together to make up our bodies. I want to help my young readers find the same joy in connecting with science that I did, and to have that same feeling that their brains might explode—in a good way—from learning new, astonishing information.


I wrote...

Who Is a Scientist?

By Laura Gehl,

Book cover of Who Is a Scientist?

What is my book about?

Who Is a Scientist? features fourteen diverse modern-day scientists, showing gorgeous photos of each scientist both at work and at play. I wanted kids to know how many different types of scientists there are, and that while some scientists work in labs, others work in observatories or in forests or even in the Sahara Desert. I also wanted young readers to see that scientists are real people who have many of the same passions that they do...like playing soccer, dancing, and eating ice cream. I want kids to read this book and believe that they can grow up to be scientists too.

The book includes a scientist who wears a headscarf, a scientist with full-sleeve tattoos, a scientist who uses forearm crutches to get around in the field, a scientist with bright red lipstick, and many more. I hope the photos show kids that they don’t need to fit into any specific mold to be a scientist. 

Nothing Stopped Sophie

By Cheryl Bardoe, Barbara McClintock (illustrator),

Book cover of Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain

Here’s another picture book featuring a woman from another century who loved math. The story of this trailbreaker is told lyrically with the title occasionally echoing.  We see the failures inevitable when one sets a difficult mathematical quest -- to understand patterns in vibrations -- as well as setbacks due to gender bias. Painting and collages are joyfully animated, including numbers hurtling through the background.

Nothing Stopped Sophie

By Cheryl Bardoe, Barbara McClintock (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Stopped Sophie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of eighteenth-century mathematician Sophie Germain, who solved the unsolvable to achieve her dream.

When her parents took away her candles to keep their young daughter from studying math...nothing stopped Sophie. When a professor discovered that the homework sent to him under a male pen name came from a woman...nothing stopped Sophie. And when she tackled a math problem that male scholars said would be impossible to solve...still, nothing stopped Sophie.

For six years Sophie Germain used her love of math and her undeniable determination to test equations that would predict patterns of vibrations. She eventually became the…


Who am I?

I was a girl who looked under rocks. Besides caring about crawling things and forests, I liked to read and write about history, which became the passion I followed into college and a career. No regrets, but I sometimes wonder what might have become of me if an interest in science was more encouraged and I was nudged past my fear of math. 


I wrote...

Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

By Jeannine Atkins,

Book cover of Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math

What is my book about?

In Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math, free verse introduces some scientists who always found joy in math as well as those who found parts of it tough, but kept at it until they saw its beauty. Paths taken include astronomy, statistics, and physics, shown in the context of lives in which friendship and family matter a lot, too.

The Kiss Quotient

By Helen Hoang,

Book cover of The Kiss Quotient

Stella is a beautifully smart character who approaches love the way she approaches econometrics, which means she has everything to learn from her fake date/escort who becomes very real in short order. Hoang’s book is sweet, steamy, and hilarious, as Stella opens her mind to everything she’s been missing. I love seeing the cautious scientist in Stella gradually open up to Michael, who aces the family dynamic and wins her fiercely-guarded heart.

The Kiss Quotient

By Helen Hoang,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Goodread's Romance Book of the Year, 2018

A Washington Post Book of the Year, 2018
An AmazonBook of the Year, 2018
Cosmopolitan's 33 Books to Get Excited About in 2018
Elle Best Summer Reads 2018

__________

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

It's high time for Stella Lane to settle down and find a husband - or so her mother tells her. This is no easy task for a wealthy, successful woman like Stella, who also happens to have Asperger's. Analyzing…


Who am I?

After a long career in other forms of writing including but not limited to journalism, TV writing, nonfiction book authoring, I began writing contemporary romance novels two years ago and I haven’t gotten off the couch or closed my laptop since then. I write sweet, spicy books about quirky heroines and the men who can’t live without them. When I’m not writing, I’m perfecting the right ratio of coffee to milk, hustling my 2 rescue dogs around the neighborhood, or running up a hill in search of a view. 


I wrote...

Playing for You: A Sports Romance

By Stacy Travis,

Book cover of Playing for You: A Sports Romance

What is my book about?

You know the fantasy about the gorgeous soccer star who picks you from a crowded room and leaves you with an epic kiss? That’s my life, except I’m an awkward introvert and he’s my opposite in every way.

When my boss sends me in his place to a professional sports banquet, I find the only empty seat next to Donovan Taylor, the San Francisco Strikers’ resident hottie with a bad reputation. I promptly embarrass myself because I have no idea who he is. Then he kisses me and asks me out. Donovan is nothing like the player I expected. As my feelings grow, I start finding it impossible to pretend I’m only in this for a promotion. Sure, he’s hiding secrets, but they won’t be enough to break us. Will they?

Headstrong

By Rachel Swaby,

Book cover of Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-And the World

Just in case the overpowering message from my book choices is that the story of women in science has only been one of exclusion and dismissal, here is something of an antidote; 52 brief biographies of women who had a huge impact on their respective fields of science. It is true that their stories are made more powerful by the skillful reminders of science’s ever-present misogyny – Dorothy Hodgkin’s 1964 Nobel Prize for Chemistry was heralded by the newspaper headline “Nobel Prize for British Wife” – it also offers an optimistic take on how they overcame such obstacles.  In a field where the need for role models is supported by both brain and behavioural science, here is a cornucopia of taster tales to share with both current and future scientists (of any gender!). 

Headstrong

By Rachel Swaby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Headstrong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history’s brightest female scientists.

“Rachel Swaby’s no-nonsense and needed Headstrong dynamically profiles historically overlooked female visionaries in science, technology, engineering, and math.”—Elle

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…


Who am I?

I’m a myth-busting feminist neuroscientist waging a campaign against the rigid gender stereotypes that govern so much of our lives and set so many onto unfulfilling paths. Seeing how often the brain gets dragged into explanations for gender gaps, I put my neuroscience hat on to check back through science and through history to find the truth behind the idea that female brains were different (aka inferior) and that their owners were therefore incompetent and incapable. What a myth! Nowhere does this play out more clearly than in the history of women in science, as shown by the books on this list. 


I wrote...

Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds

By Gina Rippon,

Book cover of Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds

What is my book about?

Do you have a female brain or a male brain? Or are we asking the wrong question? 

On a daily basis we face deeply ingrained beliefs that our sex determines what kind of brain we have, and that these brains will determine our abilities and aptitudes, our preferences and personalities. No women scientists? Blame the Brain! But just how different are females and males? Can brain scientists tell the differences between female and male brains? Are females and males really distinguished by their levels of empathy or their map-reading skills? Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience, this book revisits these old questions and provides surprising answers. Rigorous, timely, and liberating, The Gendered Brain has huge repercussions for women and men, for parents and children, and for how we identify ourselves.

Or, view all 11 books about women in mathematics

New book lists related to women in mathematics

All book lists related to women in mathematics

Bookshelves related to women in mathematics