Wednesday, December 17, 2008

50% off Nobel Prize Women in Science

There's currently a holiday sale at The National Academies Press, with select books discounted 50%. Included in the sale is Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. The description:

Since 1901 there have been over three hundred recipients of the Nobel Prize in the sciences. Only ten of them - about 3 percent - have been women. Why?

In this updated version of Nobel Prize Women in Science , Sharon Bertsch McGrayne explores the reasons for this astonishing disparity by examining the lives and achievements of fifteen women scientists who either won a Nobel Prize or played a crucial role in a Nobel Prize - winning project. The book reveals the relentless discrimination these women faced both as students and as researchers. Their success was due to the fact that they were passionately in love with science.

The book begins with Marie Curie, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Readers are then introduced to Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, Emmy Noether, Lise Meitner, Barbara McClintock, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Rosalind Franklin. These and other remarkable women portrayed here struggled against gender discrimination, raised families, and became political and religious leaders. They were mountain climbers, musicians, seamstresses, and gourmet cooks. Above all, they were strong, joyful women in love with discovery.

Nobel Prize Women in Science is a startling and revealing look into the history of science and the critical and inspiring role that women have played in the drama of scientific progress.
Maybe I'm too cynical, but I find the part of the description that suggests that every one of those women was "joyful" offputting. Women scientists are human, and so certainly have the ability to be both brilliant and unhappy. And "joyful" itself seems to me to be a gendered term - I would find it odd to hear it applied to Albert Einstein or James Watson.

But maybe the book really does give well-rounded profiles of these exceptional women scientists. And perhaps they really all did have happy lives. That would be nice to believe.

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Anonymous said...

nice post

quasarpulse said...

"Joyful" is a bit gendered, I think. But it's probably best to keep in mind that the description blurb wasn't written by the author, who likely had little or no input. I imagine anybody motivated to write a book about top women scientists (and be brutally honest about the discrimination they faced) probably won't have the same condescending tone the reviewer did.