Wonder Women: Perfect for young (and not-so-young) historians or scientists

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Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam MaggsWonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs

If you know a young woman who’s interested in the contributions of women to various STEM/STEAM fields, or perhaps were one of those young women at one point in your life, you’ll be pleased to learn that Sam Maggs’ latest non-fiction work, Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History, is an entertaining and surprisingly thorough look at the ways in which women have positively changed the world. The women featured in this book succeeded despite opposition from society as a whole, ruling theocracies, or discouragement from family members; very few of them began with the support one might expect for their potential, but all of them persevered through difficulty to make their marks on the world.

Maggs has made a name for herself by championing geeky girls and feminists of all types, particularly in her 2015 book The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy; in turning her eye toward science-minded and brave women throughout history in Wonder Women, she brings a lighthearted and informative approach (with some serious amounts of underlying sarcasm) to what could have been a dry list of names and pertinent dates. Wonder Women is divided into five sections: “Women of Science,” “Women of Medicine,” “Women of Espionage,” “Women of Innovation,” and “Women of Adventure,” each of which spotlights five women in great detail, allowing for the inconsistencies and vagaries of history that can sometimes occur when discussing African-American slaves or women who lived in the twelfth century. Maggs also includes smaller, more concise biographies of various women who contributed to that section’s theme, but who may be more familiar to readers (like Josephine Baker, Marie Curie, Hedy (not Hedley!) Lamarr, and Amelia Earhart) or about whom very little is known (like Hypatia or Tapputi, women who lived thousands of years ago).

Perhaps best of all, every section ends with an interview Maggs conducted with a woman whose life and career are relevant to the subject matter at hand: women like Dr. Lynn Conway, who revolutionized the way computers work; Lindsay Moran, former CIA operative and a freelance writer; and Mika McKinnon, a geophysicist who contributes to io9.com. Wonder Women isn’t just about amazing women who followed their passions and challenged gender stereotypes in some dusty bygone era, it’s also about women who are doing that very thing right now, whether they’re exploring the farthest reaches of space or the unknown workings of cancer cells.

For every woman I had already heard of, there were easily a dozen others in Wonder Women who were previously unknown to me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn about the work of Wang Zhenyi, Marie Equi, Noor Inayat Khan, and so many others. It was interesting to me that the inventions of women like Margaret Knight and Miriam Benjamin seem, at first glance, to be terribly mundane — A mechanized paper-bag folder? A light to signal that you need service? — and yet their effects on global culture and everyday life can’t be denied, and those innovations are still used today. I was also frustrated by how many inventions or innovations were accredited to men, either through outright theft of intellectual property or because women (especially Black women) worried that their creations wouldn’t be purchased if their identities were known to consumers.

The general tone of Maggs’ writing is conversational, and generally appropriate for an Internet-savvy pre-teen through teen audience, though I’m not sure how many young readers will recognize Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold” as a reference point for Ada Lovelace. (Though if it inspires them to read up on some Romantic-era poetry, perhaps by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley or Dorothea Wordsworth, all the better.) Maggs provides a good depth of history for each woman she discusses, weighing their successes against setbacks or injustices, as each case requires. She also includes all kinds of informative tidbits, like the concept of a “Boston marriage” or the deplorable living and working conditions during the American Industrial Revolution. And at every opportunity, she encourages the reader to be motivated by these great women, to go out and make their own brilliant mark on the world.

Also, Wonder Women goes on sale October 4th, 2016, but I’ve got great news! As you may have seen via Amy Poehler’s Smart GirlsQuirk Books has teamed up with two amazing artists, Jen Bartel and Paulina Ganucheau, and they’ve come up with an excellent pre-order campaign. If you pre-order a copy of Wonder Women through one of several online retailers and go to this Quirk Books link to provide proof of purchase and a valid e-mail address, two good things will happen:

First, you’ll get a link to download gorgeous wallpapers, created exclusively for this pre-order offer by Ms. Bartel and Ms. Ganucheau, which can be used for your tablet, phone, and/or desktop computer.

Second, your information will be entered into a giveaway for a framed, signed-by-the-artists (and Sam Maggs!), completely unique print. You could be one of two very lucky winners, and you don’t have to do anything as dangerous as climb the Alps, keep polonium in your pockets, or navigate a transatlantic flight, either. Why not roll the dice?

Overall, Wonder Women is a wonderfully informative and inspirational book, guaranteed to challenge what you thought you knew about women and their place in history. Whether you’re just starting to look for your purpose or you’re established in a career and a family, you’ll find stories which will inspire you. Highly recommended.

Publication date: October 4, 2016. A fun and feminist look at forgotten women in science, technology, and beyond, from the bestselling author of THE FANGIRL’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. You may think you know women’s history pretty well. But have you ever heard of. . . · Alice Ball, the chemist who developed an effective treatment for leprosy—only to have the credit taken by a man? · Mary Sherman Morgan, the rocket scientist whose liquid fuel compounds blasted the first U.S. satellite into orbit? · Huang Daopo, the inventor whose weaving technology revolutionized textile production in China—centuries before the cotton gin? Smart women have always been able to achieve amazing things, even when the odds were stacked against them. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs tells the stories of the brilliant, brainy, and totally rad women in history who broke barriers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors. Plus, interviews with real-life women in STEM careers, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to women-centric science and technology organizations—all to show the many ways the geeky girls of today can help to build the future.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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3 comments

  1. I have to get this book. After all, I’m young… compared to, like, glaciers.

    • Of course! We are, all of us, still our younger selves, much like a tree is supported by the layers of rings that form its trunk.

  2. Bosh. I’m old but I want to read it too.

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