Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science– and the World

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I picked this book mostly on a gut instinct based on the title and the cover while looking for my next book to blog for. I didn’t think twice about getting this one and ordered it immediately. When I received it in the mail, I was kind of astonished to realize that I’d already put it on my mental to-read list, though it hadn’t actually made it to my physical one on Goodreads. I’d stumbled upon the blurb originally during one of my monthly forays into the physical newspaper at work (I only browse it whilst waiting for my food to reheat in the microwave and usually don’t make it past the front page).

I can only say that I’m thrilled that this book reappeared in my life :-).

loved that the first mini-biography (or rather micro-biographies) was about Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842-1906) who put a lot of effort into writing a well researched paper on exactly why it was utter bullshit that educating women caused their ovaries to shrivel up and die (as was the leading argument by a male who didn’t like the idea of educating women). I though this the perfect place to start this amazing list of women.

However, if you were expecting to find a blurb on Marie Curie in this book, you’ll be sadly disappointed. I don’t really agree with the reasoning behind this omission (it’s discussed in the introduction)–that she’s simply too famous to be included. The methodology for choosing these 52 women (which does include Iréne Joliot-Curie, one of Marie’s daughters) doesn’t say that they must be women who were overlooked during their day. Unwittingly when I was ordering my books from the library for this month(s), I grabbed Almost Famous Women  where I do expect to find a lack of the usual favorites. The women in this book run the gambit of those who were ignored, stolen from, and those who were actually given a lot of praise sooner or later in their career (the category to which Curie belongs).

I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by the limited scope of these micro-biographies. Generally, except for when a bit of author’s bias creeps in, these are cut and dry descriptions of where these ladies came from, what their passion was, and how they went about making their discoveries. There is just a bare hint that one of the reasons Jacobi was so pissed off by Clarke’s book (Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for Girls) was because she was a mother as well as a scientist, so obviously her ovaries hadn’t shriveled up beyond use. While I too find it appalling that the obituary that gave rise to this book listed Yvonne Brill’s “mean stroganoff” well before mentioning that she was a brilliant rocket scientist, I think it harmful to disregard how these women themselves felt about their circumstances.

I consider myself a “practical libertarian communist” with the communist aspect being relevant here: at work, I feel proud when we as a team succeed. I don’t need the personal accolades or recognition to feel like I’ve done a good job. I don’t even mind when someone else takes credit for something that I’ve done a lot of work on, namely because of the smug satisfaction I have knowing that without me they’d fall flat on their face. So long as I make a fair wage for the work that I’ve done, anyone and their brother can step in and claim all the glory. Of course, if they were able to reap the benefits of this glory without me benefiting as well (not foreseeable where I work), then I’d happily step aside and let the glory-takers prove their worth. Currently for me this “glory” is the responsibility of talking to customers and solving the problems that I try my damnest to prevent before they happen even though this is NOT my responsibility, which is why I can’t stop a good half of them.

Anyway, I just dislike when people decide that folks who are seemingly “oppressed” should feel outrage over their situation. Different strokes for different folks, as I say, so while it’s nice to see a generally cut and dry account of these women’s scientific achievements, I think it’s unfair to not list her children if at the end of the day she felt that that was her biggest achievement.

While these micro-biographies are informative, I think they should just be the jumping off point for further research. I know I plan to look into at least a few of these ladies more in depth. I may even finish Madame Curie which I set aside immediately after reading the part about her husband’s death. Otherwise it was a really good book!

I received this book for free from Blogging For Books in exchange for this honest review.

Awesome Ladies of Science
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A drive in the country in Southeastern Virginia

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My boyfriend loves to drive. No seriously, he LOVES to drive. Many moons ago (he’s old), he was a long-haul truck driver who went from Virginia to California and back to Virginia once a week. He’s calculated that he’s probably driven 5 million miles. Course, that was before a massive heart attack killed him 14 times when he was 39 years old leaving him with a defibrillator implanted and unable to pass a DOT physical.

Anyway, when he gets stressed, nothing relaxes him more than a drive. I don’t mind one bit–I was born to be in the passenger seat! Last weekend it was hot here and since the AC went out, we went for a 4 hour drive. We live in Southeastern Virginia (also known as Hampton Roads) and in case you didn’t know this, we are like the epicenter of early American historic areas. You can’t throw a stone without hitting something pertaining to early American history (disclaimer: I’m just talking English history post-Jamestown (which we have)–for Native American history, the South- & Midwest have us beat).

So yeah–want the first permanent English Settlement in North America? Historic Jamestown or the Jamestown Settlement. Here’s the insider’s tip: Historic Jamestown is where the settlers first landed and luckily the fort isn’t under the river!! It was only recently that archaeologists discovered that all three corners are indeed still on dry land; before that, they thought one or possibly two were underwater. The Jamestown Settlement is a full reenactment of what the site probably looked like during it’s heyday. It’s where you can see replicas of the 3 ships. Here’s the thing. The Jamestown Settlement is a private business with some state funding while Historic Jamestown is a National Park. There’s a price difference. They are neighbors though, so make sure you enter the correct parking lot.

We took the Jamestown-Scottland Ferry. It’s free and you can see both the Jamestowns (including whats visible of the original fort)! You can also see the recreated boats whose berths are kind of next to the dock (there’s a few trees in the way). The funniest part was having the GPS on the elevation setting and it saying we were 80 miles below sea level while on the ferry.

By the way, the “first” real attempt to settle, down in Roanoke, NC–just a few hours away from here.

Heh–I just learned something! While getting the link to the Jamestown Settlement, I noticed that they have a Yorktown Victory Center. Guess what–this is also not the museum you are necessarily looking for and there’s probably another big price difference. I don’t think I’ve ever been to this one, but I have been to the Yorktown Battlefield and it’s Visitor Center. You can walk this Battlefield for free or spend a few bucks to see the small museum. You can also walk a lovely path to the town of Yorktown or take a free trolley that links the two. Yorktown wasn’t really part of our driving tour, though we did drive through the “Historic Triangle”, so I’ll throw Williamsburg out here as well.

Anywho, back to the driving. He drove northwest where we saw plenty of farm land and what I teasingly call “congested areas”. I kid you not that while driving with my grandma to visit my aunt in Kentucky every time there were 10 buildings close to the road in what might be considered civilization (like, there’s a place to buy groceries and maybe a church), there’d be a sign warning about congested areas. We might see one car in each of these. Here in VA there aren’t any congested area signs like there, but the feeling stuck. I’m looking at Google Maps right now and I guess our route was roughly 258 to 460 to I-295 to 5 to 31 (where the ferry is) to home.

Route 5 is one that I can’t wait to take again. If your a Civil War buff, there are like 5 different plantations all connected by a gorgeous bike path (The Virginia Capital Trail) that starts at Jamestown and will eventually connect to the capital in Richmond (52 miles!). There’s a countdown clock on the website that indicate’s it’ll be done in 4 months (this post being written in late April 2015). Another name for part of Route 5 is the John Tyler Memorial Highway (for the 10th president) and one of the plantations on this road was his Sherwood Forest Plantation. I need to go here! I’ve been to Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier, and the house in Staunton that claims Woodrow Wilson even though he only lived there from age 0 to 1. Still have 4 presidential houses to visit to complete Virginia’s eight. I know I can get my boyfriend to drive us, but we’ll see if he actually wants to tour. He doesn’t like big crowds, which was the downfall of Mount Vernon (I’ll make another post on these later).

Anyway, on this week’s blogging agenda is 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, which has a fascinating take on slavery in the New World (among other things) and reasons why it thrived where it did and not so much where it didn’t. My dad had been taking a course via Coursera on slavery, but since he takes the classes for fun, he thought that required reading too much. I was reading this book at the same time and it ended up being exactly what he needed to better understand his course material.