The best books about women in the sciences

16 authors have picked their favorite books about women in the sciences and why they recommend each book.

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Margaret and the Moon

By Dean Robbins, Lucy Knisley (illustrator),

Book cover of Margaret and the Moon

Margaret and the Moon tells the story of Margaret Hamilton, who wrote the computer code that was key to the US first landing on the moon. The story is full of suspense. Margaret—not the astronauts—is the real hero of the story. But what is best about this book is that it is bursting with curiosity. Margaret wonders, Why are there only DADDY Longlegs? Why aren’t more girls scientists? How big is the moon? And with each of her questions, readers themselves became more and more curious! Isn’t that fabulous?!


Who am I?

I am an award-winning children’s book author who writes stories about unexpected friends, women who did the impossible, people who are (almost) forgotten & ideas that seem too complicated until I find the right way to tell them.


I wrote...

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

By Sandra Nickel, Aimée Sicuro (illustrator),

Book cover of The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

What is my book about?

The Stuff Between the Stars tells the story of astronomer Vera Rubin, who discovered dark matter. She fell in love with stars when she was a girl. But when the male astronomers of her day shut her out, she decided to study something none of them were interested in. By doing this, she surpassed them all, revolutionizing modern astronomy. She proved that the space between the stars—all that dark we see at night—isn’t empty. It’s filled with stuff. And that stuff holds our universe together.

Radioactive

By Lauren Redniss,

Book cover of Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout

This book broke open all my ideas of what history writing can be. Beautiful and imaginative - Redniss’ work is unlike any other. It combines biography, archival and oral histories, and visual art to tell a story that skips through eras and topics, but is always rooted in the life of Marie Curie. While exploring the personal life of Curie, Redniss also writes a history of science and culture in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Honestly, words can not adequately describe this work, Radioactive must be picked up and savoured by the reader.


Who am I?

I am a writer, researcher, and sometimes curator and I have a passion for history and great storytelling. While my own research has focused on the First World War, I have worked on exhibits and reports on a wide array of topics. I continue to be inspired by new ways of understanding and depicting history, and especially by the work of fellow women writers and historians. This short list is a glimpse into some of my favourite works of non-fiction writing out there that has been produced by women and that have inspired me.


I wrote...

Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

By Teresa Iacobelli,

Book cover of Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War

What is my book about?

Soldiers found guilty of desertion or cowardice during the Great War faced death by firing squad. Novels, histories, movies, and television series often depict courts-martial as brutal and inflexible, and social memories of this system of frontline justice have inspired modern movements to seek pardons for soldiers executed on the battlefield. In this powerful and moving book, Teresa Iacobelli looks beyond stories of callous generals and quick executions to consider the trials of nearly two hundred soldiers who were sentenced to death but spared by a disciplinary system capable of thoughtful review and compassion.

By bringing to light these men’s experiences, Death or Deliverance reconsiders an important chapter in the history of both a war and a nation.

Handprints on Hubble

By Kathryn D. Sullivan,

Book cover of Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut's Story of Invention

Highly exciting and engaging first-hand account by an astronaut of launching and then repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. The author provides her personal profile as a “Sputnik Baby,” life in science, and becoming the first female astronaut to leave the Shuttle.

Who am I?

I was trained in astronomy and astrophysics, was a staff observer at the Lick and Yerkes Observatories, and always have had a passion for researching and writing the history of modern astrophysics and space astronomy. I hold a PhD in the history of astronomy from the University of Leicester in England, am now a retired museum curator having been a planetarium lecturer, college professor, research associate for the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics, and guitar teacher in the early 1960s.


I wrote...

The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space

By David H. DeVorkin, Robert W. Smith,

Book cover of The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space

What is my book about?

Lavishly illustrated popular exposition of the Hubble Space Telescope, how and why it was created, who built it and fought for it, who used it, and how it has changed our view of the universe.

Obsessive Genius

By Barbara Goldsmith,

Book cover of Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie

The ‘obsessive genius’ of the title is Marie Curie, the only woman to have won two Nobel Prizes. I love Goldsmith’s book because it humanizes Curie, starting with her childhood in Poland and progressing to her determination to someday become a scientist, the difficulties she faced as a woman seeking an education in Poland at the end of the nineteenth century, and finally the combination of serendipity, enduring curiosity and fierce determination that led to her groundbreaking discoveries about radioactivity, a word she is credited with coining.


Who am I?

I’m a geoscientist and writer, and ever since my childhood explorations of the ponds, creeks, cliffs and forests of my native Ontario I’ve been fascinated with the natural world. During my PhD studies and subsequent academic career I’ve been fortunate to experience the thrill of experiment and discovery, and I’m passionate about communicating the wonders of science to others. I try to do that in my own books. Those I’ve recommended here, in my opinion, do it superbly. 


I wrote...

Endless Novelties of Extraordinary Interest: The Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger and the Birth of Modern Oceanography

By Doug Macdougall,

Book cover of Endless Novelties of Extraordinary Interest: The Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger and the Birth of Modern Oceanography

What is my book about?

My most recent book, Endless Novelties, is about adventure and scientific discovery during the three-and-a-half-year long Challenger expedition of the 1870s, which set out with the aim – no less – of determining the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the world’s oceans, with particular attention to the deep sea (the title comes from a phrase the expedition’s scientific director used to describe what they might find).

I examine the factors that drove the small band of ceaselessly curious scientists on board Challenger (numbering only six, and embedded with more than 250 British Navy personnel who ran the ship) to leave their comfortable lives in Britain and embark on a long, difficult, and sometimes dangerous sea voyage. I explore their triumphs and hardships, their humor in the face of adversity, and most of all the discoveries they made by dredging up strange materials and creatures from the seafloor, and examining the biology of remote oceanic islands.

Women in Science

By Rachel Ignotofsky,

Book cover of Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

This beautiful book introduces 50 unsung women in science, giving a brief biography of each one.  Women in science are still often seen as a novelty, not as well known or celebrated as their male counterparts. It is often hard to find out about them because of their relative invisibility and this is especially true of women of colour and women from outside of Europe and America. Although not exhaustive, this book is a good introduction to some of the women across the world, and throughout time, who have helped shape science as we know it today. For similar reasons, it is also worth looking through some of Jess Wade’s biographies on Wikipedia if you’re interested in discovering a few more unsung heroines of science.


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.

Minerva's French Sisters

By Nina Rattner Gelbart,

Book cover of Minerva's French Sisters: Women of Science in Enlightenment France

This book focuses on another group of influential women. They are six women of significant scientific accomplishment who have been almost entirely written out of history. Through painstaking research, Gelbart brings these women vividly to life. She reveals their extensive scientific work and significant accomplishments as well their influence on male scientists and intellectuals. She also notes the obstacles they faced and the sacrifices they made to do their work.

The reader walks with Gelbart through the streets of Paris as she gives her figures a rich personal and professional context in time and space. She illuminates the scientific context of the Enlightenment by bringing these women into our historical understanding of the period. Her empathic treatment exposes the difficulties faced by women who pursued science, many of which continue to plague twenty-first-century female scientists.


Who am I?

As a historian of early modern France and a professor at Southern Methodist University, I have taken students to Paris on a study abroad program for more than twenty summers. Students were invariably intrigued by the relationship of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers. The young prince married Catherine de Medici at the age of fourteen but the thirty-six-year-old Diane de Poitiers became his mistress when he was sixteen and remained so for the rest of his life. The complexities of that relationship and the significance of both women led me to conclude that the history of the Renaissance could be told through the lives of the queens and mistresses.


I wrote...

Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France

By Kathleen Wellman,

Book cover of Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France

What is my book about?

This book treats a series of intriguing, influential women from Agnès Sorel, designated as an official favorite in 1444 to the death in 1599 of Gabrielle d’Estrées, a mistress Henry IV had promised to marry. The queens and mistresses of the intervening years included, among others, Anne of Brittany who married two successive kings of France and remained duchess of Brittany, Catherine de Medici who was not simply queen when her husband reigned but also influential queen mother during her three sons’ reigns, and Diane de Poitiers who cast Henry II’s reign as a chivalric romance.

The queens and mistresses this book treats were significant to the politics of the period. They are, I contend, far more interesting and important than the much more familiar six wives of Henry VIII of England.

The Hungry Tide

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Hungry Tide

When I read The Hungry Tide for the first time, it read to me like a fantasy novel set in a faraway world. Except it isn’t. The setting for The Hungry Tide is a real place, but it is as dangerous and as fantastic as something created by Tolkien. It takes place in the Sundarbans of India, a world where tigers hunt people and tidal floods come without warning and wipe out villages. Sometimes I read a book to get lost in a world that doesn’t exist. Other times I read a book to get lost in a world that does. I’ve never been to the Sundarbans, but I still periodically dream about them. 


Who am I?

I'm a writer and a reader. I love getting lost in books. It has been the most consistent aspect of my life. I love audacious books whose beauty pushes all the way to the edge of absurdity, without ever slipping over. I love nothing more in life than sitting by a fire and dissolving into a good book. I'm the author of the Children of Paranoia series, the Memory Detective series, and the stand-alone novel List of Fears. My books have been published in seven different languages and have been optioned for both movies and television. I live in Brooklyn with my wife and two children, all of whom can be found reading at any given moment. 


I wrote...

List of Fears

By Trevor Shane,

Book cover of List of Fears

What is my book about?

List of Fears is a novel about the purpose and meaning of life, all centered around a private detective who is hired by a rich movie producer to find a gorilla that has been kidnapped from the San Diego Zoo. The private detective follows the peculiar trail of clues, including the business card of a mysterious gypsy fortune teller, deep into the dark abandoned subway tunnels deep beneath New York City.

Meanwhile, a young boy in Brooklyn secretly keeps a list of his fears hidden in his closet, adding fears and crossing them off as he ages. Near the top of the list is one word that has never been crossed off, “God”. Their lives become mixed in this darkly relevant, heart-pounding adventure.

Shards of Honor

By Lois McMaster Bujold,

Book cover of Shards of Honor: Volume 2

The Vorkosigan Saga is one of my favorite science fiction series of all time, not just because of Bujold’s wonderful insights into human nature, but because of all of the exciting intrigue and twists and turns. Most people’s favorite part about these books is the charisma, charm, and intelligence of Miles Vorkosigan, the series’ primary antagonist, but I actually think that Shards of Honor is the best place to start. It introduces Miles’s parents and shows how the unlikely couple got together, with a great deal of adventure thrown into the mix.


Who am I?

I’ve been in love with science fiction since I watched Star Wars for the first time at the age of seven, and haven’t looked back since. Besides being a voracious lifelong reader, I’ve written several dozen science fiction books myself, and my favorite sub-genre is space opera. I’ve read most of the Hugo and Nebula-winning novels, as well as several that those awards have overlooked, and my stories have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Again, Hazardous Imaginings, After Dinner Conversation, Bards and Sages Quarterly, and Twilight Tales LTUE Benefit Anthology.


I wrote...

Brothers in Exile

By Joe Vasicek,

Book cover of Brothers in Exile

What is my book about?

Deep in the Far Outworlds, a derelict space station holds the bones of a long-dead people—and a beautiful young woman locked in cryofreeze. When the star-wandering brothers Isaac and Aaron Deltana find the sleeping girl, they soon realize they're her only hope for rescue. With no way to revive her, they set a course for the New Pleiades. After a series of brutal civil wars, the Gaian Empire has turned its sights outward. A frontier war is on the verge of breaking out, and the brothers are about to be caught in the middle of it.

They both harbor a secret. Somewhere in the Outworlds is another derelict station—one that they used to call home. That secret will either bind them together or draw them apart.

The Women of the Moon

By Daniel R. Altschuler, Fernando J. Ballesteros,

Book cover of The Women of the Moon: Tales of Science, Love, Sorrow, and Courage

Women have been involved in mapping and studying the Moon and the stars since the late 1600s. Women’s stories have almost never been told largely because most cultures considered women only as helpmeets, and because women scientists could only publish their work under their husband’s or brother’s names. Altschuler and Ballesteros, award-winning Puerto Rican and Spanish male astronomers, have selected the 28 women pioneer astronomers whose names graced lunar craters by 2019 to tell representative stories of hardship and success of woman astronomers and promoters. Although women's names are rare on the Moon, it is fitting that for Venus all the features are named for women and goddesses. 

I end by mentioning that since 2019 five more lunar craters honor women. Many more women are studying the Moon and the rest of the universe than ever before, and a woman will be on the next American mission to the Moon.…


Who am I?

While watching my first eclipse of the Moon in the 5th grade I was awed that the Earth’s shadow stretched so far into space and by the speed the Moon passed through it. I started reading science fiction books and in high school discovered Sky & Telescope magazine. I've read S&T ever since and have proudly written its Moon column for the last 21 years. I've also built telescopes for backyard observing, earned a PhD in planetary science, worked at NASA & the Planetary Science Institute, written three books about the Moon, prepared 6 years of daily Lunar Photo of the Day blogs, and have been chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Lunar Nomenclature Task Group.


I wrote...

21st Century Atlas of the Moon

By Charles A. Wood, Maurice J. S. Collins,

Book cover of 21st Century Atlas of the Moon

What is my book about?

As a student and observer of the Moon, I always wanted a perfect atlas for use at the telescope and in my study, so Maurice Collins and I created it. Our 21st Century Atlas of the Moon is beautifully illustrated with images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which still circles the Moon every 2 hours with cameras clicking. LRO imaged Apollo Astronauts’ footprints on the Moon; impossibly tiny to be seen from Earth but our atlas shows exactly where to see astronaut landing sites. Lunar craters are named for famous scientists, and with the 21st Century Atlas of the Moon you can find the home crater for each of these humans, as well as the seas of Serenity and Tranquility – but be cautious of the Ocean of Storms!

The Other Einstein

By Marie Benedict,

Book cover of The Other Einstein

The Other Einstein is a biography about Albert Einstein’s first wife, Maleva. I was attracted to this book because I appreciate stories about strong woman who have to fight their way to be noticed. The ancient female protagonist in my own book is similar. She must fight her way out of a dangerous situation to get what she wants.


Who am I?

My first love in reading and writing is historical fiction. But I’m pretty particular about how the stories are created. To me, historical novels should be as accurate as possible; the facts, rather than the fiction, should guide the story. With my writing, I follow the wise words of the author, Anya Seton: It has…been my anxious endeavor to use nothing but historical fact when these facts are known…. Since I have based my story on history, I have tried never to distort time, or place, or character to suit my convenience. I’m particularly pleased when readers tell me that my research is exemplary and they have learned something new. 


I wrote...

Caledonia

By Sherry V. Ostroff,

Book cover of Caledonia

What is my book about?

Two women living 300 years apart are bound by mysterious circumstances. 21st century Hanna keeps uncovering evidence linking her to 17th century Anna. Both women experience adventure, romance, and tragedy as the reader witnesses them become more and more connected.

Caledonia tells the story of The Darien Scheme, the creation of a 17th-century Scottish trading colony in Central America. Its epic failure and the tragic death of more than half of the colonists would forever change the course of history.

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