#NFBookClub Headstrong Discussion – Part 1

February 11, 2016 Uncategorized 11


Hi everyone! I can only hope you’re enjoying this book as much as I am, because it’s been fantastic. It is one of those books that I want to run out and give to all my friends to read.  I’ve generally found the stories very inspiring, both the women’s accomplishments and the challenges they had to overcome. I’d love to learn more about all of them! Here’s the discussion going on the google doc and the questions on this first half of the books:

  1. What did you think of the obit beginning with Brill’s domestic accomplishments?
  2. How do you like the vignette style of this book?
  3. Do you have a favorite story so far? If so, which one and why?
  4. Do you think something should be done today about the many female scientists who are known not to have received the credit they were due in their time, from paper authorships to Nobel prizes?

[inlinkz_linkup id=607301]

1 My initial reaction was that this was pretty terrible, largely because it was presented in the context of women not receiving recognition for their scientific achievements. As Kim at Time to Read pointed out though, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with an obituary beginning with details of woman or man’s family life if that was what they valued the most. There are two things that make me think this was really an example of sexism though. One, the Times included Brill’s obituary because of her professional accomplishments, so that should have been the lead. And two, the Times changed the obituary in response to public outcry, which I don’t think would have happened if Brill’s family had believed she would have liked the way it was written.

2 Initially, I was dubious. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get into the book with the quick changes between stories. I actually ended up really loving this though and having a hard time putting it down. I am left with things I want to know about all of the women in the book though!

3 I loved every one of the stories, but the one that stand out to me the most is Hodgkin’s discovery of the structure of penicillin. I feel as though I’ve heard the story of the discovery of penicillin over and over, so I was especially surprised that I wasn’t aware of her Nobel prize winning contribution.

4 I think the most important thing to do for the women who didn’t receive the credit they deserved in their lifetime is what this author is doing now – posthumously remembering their contributions. Something that this book generally made me realize though is how unaware I am of many important scientific contributions from both men and women, even those who received the recognition of a Nobel prize within their lifetime. It’s made me want to learn a lot more about science history!

11 Responses to “#NFBookClub Headstrong Discussion – Part 1”

  1. Naomi

    1. When I stop to think about it, if I was a successful career-type woman with many accomplishments, I think I would still want my family life to come first. Especially if I had children, I would want that to come first. Maybe not the part about following my husband around – the way they put that makes her sound like a puppy.

    2. I like the vignette style, but I think it would work better for me if I wasn’t reading them all back to back. I’m finding that they’re running together, and I’m forgetting the ones that came before. I might have to buy myself a copy so that I can read more slowly. The only other problem is that the quick little summaries on each woman just leave me wanting to know more about them!

    3. I haven’t quite gotten to the mid-point yet, but I think my favourite so far is Maria Sibylla Merian (the entomologist and painter) – I could read a whole book about her! (It’s interesting to hear about everyone else’s favourites, and what has stuck in their mind the most.)

    4. I think recognizing women’s accomplishments now is a good way to try to compensate for past mistakes. But writing books about them is another – I’ll happily read them!

    Like you, I can’t believe how little I know about this stuff! So much to learn about. 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I didn’t actually think about how I’d want my obituary to be ordered and I’m not honestly sure. I agree with you that in this case, the tone is also a little problematic. I did share your feeling that the summaries made things blur together and just made me want more. I’m also thinking I need to get a copy that I can revisit later 🙂

  2. Rachel

    1. Hi everyone! I admit that I didn’t get very far into this book. Part of the problem was that I felt, like Katie, “What’s wrong with talking about her family life – if that’s what she valued.” Though, of course, it’s nice to say something small about her career too just for a little context. But contrary to Katie, I’m pretty sure public outcry can occur contrary to the opinions of the family. 🙂 The public masses aren’t known for their sensibleness.

    2. The other part of my problem was that I was listening to the audio version rather than reading it. Because of this, the vignette style was difficult to follow. I never caught names of who they were talking about because I’m terrible at name-catching while listening (in fact, the reason I started listening to audiobooks is my poor auditory comprehension, which has improved greatly with their use). But I didn’t see the point in continuing on with the book if I couldn’t follow it.

    3. I was enjoying the stories, but I figured the point of the book was lost if I couldn’t keep track of who they were talking about. 🙂

    4. No doubt. Being a biologist myself I can see for myself the sexism of recognition for the higher awards. I’ve known / met quite a few amazing woman scientists, but all of them seem to be tied to their husbands career somehow. This was even so in at least one of the stories by the time I returned the audiobook.

    • DoingDewey

      The audio version does seem like it would be hard to deal with for this book! I found it hard to keep track of everyone even though I was able to flip back and forth. I’m sorry this one hasn’t worked out for you!

  3. Kim @Time2Read

    I can see how you could get lost in the names listening to this instead of reading. I know I have paged back to the table of contents more than once to ‘remember’ a name! Sadly, even though these are accomplishments worth remembering, I’m pretty sure I will have forgotten the names 6 months from now. It makes me realize how very unlikely it is that any scientist, male or female, will really be remembered the way they should.

    I know that most of my ‘history’ I learn through historical fiction, which often inspires me to learn more about the characters in real life. Maybe some author needs to start writing historical fiction based on the lives of scientists! That is probably something I would read AND remember! Sad, isn’t it?

      • DoingDewey

        I recently read and really loved The Stargazer’s Sister, about the sister of William Herschel’s sister Caroline, who was an impressive astronomer herself. Other than that, I don’t know that I’ve read much historical fiction about scientists, but I’d like to read more 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I think historical fiction would help me remember things better too. It can add some emotional impact that makes things memorable. Although I think even individual biographies would be more memorable, in this case!

  4. Brona

    My copy finally turned up today – so now I’ll just have to play catch-ups the best I can ????
    Mr Books & I honeymooned in Hawaii/Maui/Oahu and I read Molokai whilst there. Hopefully next time I’ll get to go to that island as well, but for now I love finding out more about it – including Alice Ball who worked out how to make one of the treatments usable.

    • DoingDewey

      Alright! I’m glad you’re able to join in now 🙂 Your honeymoon sounds awesome and it’s fun that you had some prior knowledge to connect Alice’s story to. I always like when that happens.

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