Earlier this week, I read and reviewed Vox, where a woman is sought after for her knowledge and expertise in a male-dominated area of science. I started thinking about books about women in STEM, leading women with actual careers in the sciences. There really aren’t as many on my shelves (or in the world) as I would have hoped. It feels like most of the ones I have to hand use the woman’s job or interest in STEM as part of her “quirky” personality. (It’s also probably not a coincidence that every single one of these books was written by a woman…) So, here’s what I could round up: eight books about women in STEM.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The main character of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice is a linguistics professor, named (you guessed it) Alice. She loves her work, she’s well respected in her field, and she fears losing it all when she begins to experience symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. This is a truly heart-wrenching account of a woman’s career in STEM coming to an end long before she would have wanted, for reasons beyond her control, but I feel Genova is respectful and insightful about Alice’s work with the science of language. Read my full review of Still Alice here.
The Helpline by Katherine Collette
When The Helpline begins, Germaine’s career is not going particularly well. She lost her job as senior mathematician at Wallace Insurance after an unfortunate incident, and finds that the job market for mathematicians isn’t exactly booming. What Germaine lacks in social skills she more than makes up for with her keen analytical mind, and this hilarious heart-warming book sees her applying her skills to a very different kind of role… Read my full review of The Helpline here.
The Signature Of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert spent years – years! – researching moss, so that she could bring the central character of The Signature of All Things, a botanist, to life. Alma inherits her father’s money and his fascination with the natural world, in a time (the early 1800s) when women weren’t supposed to have either of those things. As a character, Alma is unforgettable: passionate, bold, and observant. This is a book about the balance between the scientific and the spiritual, love and logic, evolution in all of its forms.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Ever wonder where those recommendations to add to your cart come from when you’re online shopping? In The Kiss Quotient, it’s Stella’s job to put them there. She’s an econometrician, meaning that she analyses data to predict human behaviour. For instance, she discovers over the course of the novel (among many other, more steamy, things) that men stop buying their own underpants when they fall in love, because the women start buying underpants for them. Interesting, no? Read my full review of The Kiss Quotient here.
Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery
Ordinary Matter is a bit different to the other books about women in STEM on this list. It’s actually a collection of short stories, each based on one of the women who won Nobel prizes for scientific research. The stories are varied, and not all of them feature women in STEM per se, but they all draw on some aspect of real-life work and research outcomes, so I figure it counts. Be sure to pay close attention to my personal favourites, Something Close To Gold and The Bodies Are Buried.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Okay, fine, including Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine might be a bit of a stretch, but to be fair Eleanor is an accountant and that seems pretty maths-y to me! She is not, as the title would suggest, “completely fine”, but she’s competent enough at her job. She’s also managed to build a life for herself, against all odds, that functions well. One act of kindness is enough to show Eleanor that there’s more to life than being just “completely fine”, and she deserves it all.
The Breeding Season by Amanda Niehaus
The Breeding Season gets bonus points for being a book about a woman in STEM written by a woman in STEM. Elise is a reproductive biologist and researcher who turns to fieldwork to cope with the grief of losing her child. Amanda Neihaus is also a biologist, and undertook extensive research into the reproductive biology of northern quolls to write Elise’s story. It is a story of all-encompassing grief, intensely poetic and full of natural imagery and metaphor.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Hidden Figures is a work of non-fiction, so it’s technically in a different category, but any list of books about women in STEM feels incomplete without it. Margot Lee Shetterley’s book finally shone a spotlight on the women – the computer scientists – who made America’s role in the space race possible. Their colleagues called them “human computers”, and using nary more than pencil and paper they ran the numbers and figured out how to put a man on the moon. Forget about Neil Armstrong, this is the true story of humanity’s triumph.