Let's Talk About Women in Science - A Review of 'Headstrong' by Rachel Swaby

Headstrong women in science book review

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I have to start this review out with a disclaimer - I have not actually finished this book. But I have a good reason! I started reading my mom's copy while I was in America, and I didn't have time to finish it before starting my trip around the world. It is the first thing I'm going to pick up when I go back though, and I'll definitely be buying a copy for myself, because this book is too important not to own!

So what makes me confident enough to recommend a book I haven't even finished reading? It's the subject matter. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - And The World is about 52 awesome women you probably haven't heard of, but really should know. Each chapter is a short biography of a woman who made a major impact on her field, whether it was science, mathematics, medicine or invention. 

The stories of these women are quite brief and each only fills a handful of pages. But that brevity is part of why I love this book. I can read about a new, inspiring woman before bed each night, and let my dreams be filled with everything from trips to the stars to adventures in DNA. (If you haven't tried dreaming about DNA before, I highly recommend it.) And in the morning I can wake up and do my own research on these women to learn more! I'm a big believer in the value of making the effort to learn on your own, and this book gave me just the right amount of information to get me interested while leaving me wanting more.

One small critique I will make, Headstrong is not an example of incredible writing. The writing isn't bad by any means, it's just straightforward, simple and matter-of-fact. Rachel Swaby isn't trying to wow anyone with her literary skills, she's just trying to share stories that deserve to be told. I love learning while reading beautifully woven sentences when I can, and Headstrong doesn't deliver that. But the stories it does deliver are so valuable that complaining about the writing style is quite trivial.

There's one complaint that I've often seen made in other reviews of this book - "So-and-so got left out!" If you happen to be one of those reviewers please write a book about so-and-so! I know I'm not the only one who is hungry to learn about more smart, strong women after reading this book! 

Women's hands lifting the starry night sky like a curtain 

I've been thinking about an illustration inspired by this book for months now, and mostly come up with lots of boring ideas. (Microscope? Beaker? Telescope...so unoriginal.) So I decided to challenge myself to think a bit more conceptually and push myself to come up with an interesting concept. My mind wandered back to a saying that I have loved for years - "Women hold up half the sky."

I've used a bright blue sky in my illustrations inspired by that quote in the past, but thinking about these women scientists made me think a bit larger. Some of them studied space directly, some added to our understanding of the universe, others built on knowledge we've gained through space exploration. I love the way this illustration turned out, and I think it might even inspire a whole series along this theme.

Ok, let's sum things up!

Title: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World

Author: Rachel Swaby

Genre: Nonfiction, Collection of Biographies 

Length: 288 pages - The longest biography is only 5 pages, so it's great for reading a snippet here or there when you have a chance!

Age: Adults, but I'd love to see this in the hands of high schoolers too!

Should you read it?: If you enjoying being inspired and learning a bit along the way, absolutely!

If you're interested in a print, you can find one in the shop by clicking here! If you think you'd like to read Headstrong, look for it at your local library or find it on Amazon by clicking below.


  • Adana

    I cannot wait to see what else comes of this series of yours! This is one of my favorite illustrations you have done, yet! I am putting it on my wish list along with the book. You’re amazing!

  • Gwen

    One bio for each week of the year.

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