Review: The Only Woman in the Room

September 21, 2015 Uncategorized 8 ★★★

Review: The Only Woman in the RoomTitle: The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club
Author: Eileen Pollack
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: I found some of the author’s anecdotes moving, but I was disappointed this wasn’t a more research-based exploration of the problem.

Although author Eileen Pollack was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a BS in physics, she decided to pursue her love of writing instead of going on to get her PhD. Decades later, she decided to explore why so many women drop out of math, science, and engineering at every level of achievement. She briefly discusses some studies on women in science and anecdotes from others, but mostly revisits her own experiences.

Given the subtitle of this book (Why Science is Still a Boys Club), I hoped for a rigorous analysis of this question and maybe even a partial solution to the problem. My expectations meant I was disappointed when this turned out to be yet another book that’s actually a memoir. The first third of the book especially disappointed me because it was the story of the author’s childhood in the sixties, which was unrelatable to me. I also desperately hope the description of the blatant sexism she faced is largely irrelevant today.

The second third of the book told the story of her time at Yale. Her experience was still very different from mine, but I found it interesting for that reason. In the final third of the book, I found the modern anecdotes from women the author interviewed more interesting still. I also enjoyed the few studies the author cited, but many were studies I’d heard of before. I actually would not want to get rid of the memoir section, but I do wish the book had been long enough for there to be a more thorough exploration on research in this area.

Have you read any of the recent nonfiction books that have surprised people by being memoirs (SpinsterGalileo’s Middle Finger, etc)?

8 Responses to “Review: The Only Woman in the Room”

    • DoingDewey

      Yes! Lately, I just haven’t been in the mood for memoirs, while narrative nonfiction, science based books, and books with lots of fun facts are some of favorites 🙂

  1. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    I read another review of this book that was full of disappointment. It’s surprising that a book about women in science is so much more a memoir than a factual, statistical look at why there aren’t as many women in science. It probably would have helped if it was made clearer in the title/cover that this is more subjective. It’s still an interesting idea for a book though, I’m sure it has an audience!

    • DoingDewey

      Yes, if I’d known what I was getting into, I think I’d have been less disappointed! The author’s scientific training also game me high hopes for the use of scientific studies in the conclusions she drew.

  2. Rachel

    No surprise memoirs for me recently. 🙂 I haven’t experienced much sexism in science, but there’s less of it in biology than physics.

    • DoingDewey

      I work in computational biology and I’ve largely been in biology labs, so I wondered if that was part of why I haven’t encountered any sexism. I have also had only great experiences doing a rotation in a computer science lab and in my computer science classes though. I hope that my positive experiences are representative of an overall trend!

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