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review 2019-07-07 21:28
Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars - Nathalia Holt

Date Published: April 5, 2016

Format: Ebook

Source: Own Copy

Date Read: June 5-9, 2019

Read for BL-opoly 2019, Science Reading List, and COYER Summer 2019



The riveting true story of the women who launched America into space.

In the 1940s and 50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn't turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

For the first time, Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the stories of these women--known as "human computers"--who broke the boundaries of both gender and science. Based on extensive research and interviews with all the living members of the team, Rise of the Rocket Girls offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science: both where we've been, and the far reaches of space to which we're heading.




This book can be seen as West Coast version of Hidden Figures - women who had exceptional abilities in math and science going to work (starting in the 1930s) at the Jet Propulsion Lab (which was mentioned in Hidden Figures). During the 1940s, a lot of their funding came from the military, a fact not lost on the women nor made it easy to work on projects that may end up being used for war. In the 1950s and 1960s, the shift went from military to the newly created NASA and their own company's space exploration - which made the woman much happier and excited for their company's future projects. There was the first African-American woman along with the first Chinese-American profiled in the book, although Jim Crow was not a factor in the workplace and both women worked their way up the ladder to be supervisors and then heads of the department. The work-life balance (or like thereof) was more of a tie that bound the women together, who became a sisterhood of sorts, even the "new girls". Births, deaths, marriages, divorces ran alongside the missions to Venus, Mercury, and Earth's moon. Some of the women went into engineering, some took sabbitcals from the work but usually returned a few years later. All the while, their stories were integrated into post-WWII American history through Holt's writing, showing how the second wave feminism and technological advancement met the workplace (pantsuits! panty hose! computers) while also dealing with age-old problems like division of work on the home front. 


A great companion book to Hidden Figures and great reading for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing coming up this month. Check out the pictures that come with the book, as Holt began writing the book after meeting the women at a company reunion. The women were by then in their late 80s and early 90s, so having their stories (and others who have already passed away) written down is a gift. Highly recommend.

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review 2019-01-09 15:27
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean,Sean Runnette

Date Published: August 18, 2010

Format: Audiobook (Tantor Audio)

Source: RB Digital/RAF Lakenheath Library 

Date Read: January 3-5, 2019

BL's Flat Book Society book club pick for January 2019



Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium (Cd, 48)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is one of our crowning scientific achievements, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Why did a little lithium (Li, 3) help cure poet Robert Lowell of his madness? And how did gallium (Ga, 31) become the go-to element for laboratory pranksters? The Disappearing Spoon has the answers, fusing science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery and alchemy, from the big bang through to the end of time.




I listened to this book just before the amended date for the book club read because I had other bookish obligations this month and didn't want to miss reading this book. So if you are reading this book for the first time on the amended date, you might want to skip my review.




In full disclosure, this wasn't my pick for this month's book club choice (kind of had my heart set on reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert), but I am determined to read and participate fully in this book club in 2019. So here we go - wait, that title is quite a mouthful! Oh, it is about chemistry...okay, so the audiobook would be my best route. And it turned out it was, because if I read this book in print/ebook, I probably would've DNF'd by the third or fourth chapter. Major applause for the narrator in getting me through 12+ hours of chemistry!


So this book had its highlights, some lowlights, but mostly it was just okay. The chapters are sorted by breaking up the Periodic Table of Elements (PToE) into clusters of like elements, and then each chapter goes into discovery, history, and uses of each element in that cluster. There is one chapter early in the book that is more devoted to the reasons and history of word usuage/language development/common names of elements - this was the chapter that had me contemplating hitting the DNF button. Most of the history of the elements had to do with scientists' egos and the Nobel Prize awards; after awhile, these controversaries all blurred into one another. So many egos, fighting over the same award that was more political than scientific based. The highlights for me was the element's use in chemical warfare and radiological sections as well as Ghandi's hatred of salt and the Gold Rush in the US. 


The book may not be in my science wheelhouse, but now I do want to read Kean's The Violinist's Thumb because I like his writing.

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