The notable and the few, popular science books by women

I recently came across the August 6th post by science writer Jo Marchant in The Guardian’s Notes & Theories; Dispatches from the science desk. The Guardian is a British publication however, the perspective is pretty much universal as she mentions US Women science writers as well. The question; why so few popular science books written by women?

One can note that in general there are many more popular male science writers as opposed to female ones. Why? On answer can be that the boys have pretty much had a head start for the last 100 years+. Ignoring that no-brainer, what about today in the arena where publication houses and editorial boards are pretty evenly balanced male/female? She notes that with respect to the prestigious 2011 Royal Society Winston Prize for Science books the author shortlist were all men. She eventually comes to the conclusion that with respect to the Winston Prize, it may be due to the selection the judges are presented with. That saying, what is causing the lack of women science writers in the actual popular science book arena? She answers the question with more questions; are science books by women taken less seriously? Are they in short supply due to family obligations placed on women? She also mentions that encouragement of female science writers to submit books for publication as well as encouraging judges of  prestigious publication prizes to consider books outside of a list might increase numbers.

Why is this so important? It is still the case that in the hard sciences and indeed in the upper eschelons of most sciences, the population of men is more heavily balanced against women, a fact played out in the popular science book arena as well. It goes without saying that if we need to engage more people, young and old in the exciting business of science, we need both voices tooting the horn.

I do want to mention some of the outstanding popular science books written by women, most of whom are mentioned in Jo’s post; Natalie Angier, Dava Sobel, Lisa Randall, Rebecca Skloot, and Gabrielle Walker. I’ve read and absolutely love the engaging and witty style of Natalie Angier in two of her books; The Canon and Woman; An Intimate Geography. I met Dava Sobel when she was a guest speaker at an APS conference in Houston. Two of her books; are great reads; Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love and Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. My humble opinion again, but in good company. Another popular science book by Olivia Judson that I read in the’90s was Dr-Tatianas Sex Advice Creation. It’s absolutely hilarious and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking knowledge of evolutionary adaptions within the animal kingdom.

Oh, and another great read for all women wondering just what the hell’s been going on with the low numbers of women in the sciences and one of the reasons why; just read Candice Pert’s Molecules of Emotion. I read it back in 2000 upon recommendation of a friend and fellow professor. It’s an engaging read – one of those ‘can’t put it down’ books. I do think her story about scientific recognition is more of a even-gendered one now, though many women of the earlier generations in science quite likely were forced disappear into the woodwork so to speak, after their contributions were absorbed by another. Candice and her husband have now chosen to go ‘non-digital’ on speaking, they seemed to have found a great life on


About Deborah Leddon

Vegetarian Mother and Wife, Scientist at UTD CSS, passionate about my family, animal rights, the outdoors and my violin.
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