15 Books About Geeky Women — Past and Present — In Honor of National Women’s Month
Happy National Women’s History Month! Along with celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, the entirety of March is a time to celebrate the cultural and historical impact of women in America. And this year’s theme is perfect for book lovers like us — Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.
Sometimes the stories of great women are overlooked (the past is called “his-story,” after all), and as a lifelong geek myself, I know that it can be tough being a woman who identifies as a geek. But we’re definitely not alone! From historical women who helped shape the face of science and math to modern geeky heroes who show us that it’s OK to just be ourselves, let’s highlight some of these amazing women — and these great books about them!
Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sheer: If I had to name one woman in the world as my personal hero, it would be Sally Ride. Ride broke so many barriers, on Earth and in space, and continues to be an inspiration to millions of girls and women. Lynn Sheer, an ABC journalist who covered NASA during Ride’s time, not only writes about her rise to fame as the first American woman in space, but her continued dedication of space travel and education afterwards. The book also has exclusive interviews from the people closest to Ride, including her long-time partner.
Ada’s Algorithm by James Essinger: Ada Lovelace is known was much for her beauty as she is for her incredible intelligence. The daughter of legendary Romantic poet Lord Byron, Lovelace was an overlooked but integral part in the eventual development of the computer. Author James Essinger details how computer scientist Alan Turning helped the world rediscover Lovelace’s brilliance — and makes the case that the computer age could have started two centuries ago if only the scientific community had realized her accomplishment.
Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee: Virginia Woolf is widely regarded as one of the most famous female author’s of the 20th century, but she was also secretly one of the most influential science fiction writers in history. Under a pen name (since science fiction was not considered a “serious” genre at the time), Woolf crafted stories that included the first known instance of a cyborg, as well as tales that influenced The Matrix, the birth of steampunk, The Planet of the Apes, and Doctor Who. The more you know!
Bossypants by Tina Fey: All hail this geek goodess! Tina Fey’s autobiography is equal parts funny and inspiring, giving readers a look into the entertainment world and a woman’s struggle with beauty, marriage, and motherhood.
African American Women Chemists by Jeannette Brown: This book actually tells the stories of a few female chemists — including Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry in the U.S. The book is written by Jeannette Brown, who is also an African American chemist, and is a great homage to all of these women that history neglected.
Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes: When you look at your cell phone, you probably don’t realize that it was only made possible due to a famous movie star. Hedy Lamarr was a gorgeous Golden Age starlet and inventor who, along with composer George Antheil, invented the frequency-hopping spread-spectrum. Lamarr had hoped that the invention could be used to disrupt radio-controlled torpedoes used in WWII and the technology is the basis of the wireless devices we use today.
Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox: Another woman who was effectively left out of the history books in favor of male colleagues, Rosalind Franklin was instrumental in the discovery of DNA. This biography details that sexism, male ego, and even anti-Semitism led to Franklin being slept aside, but that she never gave up on science.
Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska: Hypatia may just be the greatest woman you’ve never heard of. A brilliant mathematician and philosopher, Hypatia was brutally murdered by fanatical Christians, and her death gives us a look into the turmoil surrounding conflicting religions and views on science during her time period. Author Maria Dzielska uses letters from Hypatia’s students and other accounts to paint a picture of her life and death.
Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour: Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite novels, and the life of its author is just as interesting. Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley is a thoughtful look at her complicated, sometimes scandalous, and ultimately tragic life, but also paints her as courageous, generous, and headstrong. A must read for any Shelley fan.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh: I have spent many an hour cry-laughing over Allie Brosh’s stories and illustration on the Hyperbole and a Half blog, but her book is something else entirely. An almost heartbreakingly honest look at her life, including her struggle with depression, this book is both hilarious and reassuring that we’re not alone in this crazy, weird world.
Madame Curie by Eve Curie: Mariue Curie is perhaps the most well-known female scientist in history, known her for Nobel Prize-winning work in Physics and Chemistry. Curie’s work pioneered our understanding of radioactivity, but she was also one half of a storybook romance, a mother, and a martyr of science. And this book is actually written by Eve Curie, Marie’s youngest daughter!
Madame Chien-Shiung Wu: The First Lady of Physics Research by Tsai-chien Chiang: Another Madame of science, Chien-Shiung Wu is often refered to as the “Chinese Marie Curie.” Chien-Shiung has a lot of accolades to her name — she was a recipient of the first Wolf Prize in Physics, the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Princeton University, and the first female president of the American Physics Society — and this book highlights both her scientific achievements and her personal life.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher: No matter whatever else Carrie Fisher does in her life, she’ll always be Princess Leia to me (much to her dismay, I’m sure). Fisher’s incredibly honest memoir describes her life as the daughter of Hollywood royalty, her shoot to fame thanks to Star Wars, and other almost-to-crazy to believe events.
Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson: Most of us learned about Galileo and Edward Hubble when we studied Astronomy in school, but there are quite a few female figures that are constantly left out — including Henrietta Swan Leavitt. This biography tells the story of how a woman employed by the Harvard Observatory (for the same wage as a factory worker) discovered the method astronomers could use to accurately measure the universe.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg: The book that everyone was talking about in 2013, for better or worse, is a book worth reading, in my opinion. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s first book is a call to action for women to forget about the notion that the workplace is a “man’s world” and for men to strive to be equal partners in the home — hopefully leading to more women feeling empowered enough to seek out leadership positions at work.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying by Carol Leifer: Quirk bonus pick! Another memoir a la Bossypants, from Quirk!