Review by: 

Alyssa Mittleider

Iowa State University

[email protected]

          There are many by-gone components of our culture that this generation of students (and advisers) will never know.  For example, women were not always allowed to get a degree in engineering.  We have not always had access to the earth’s moon.  And the term computer was used as a job title for an actual human who was great at math rather than a home processing system.

            Rise of the Rocket Girls is a book that honors the role women computers played at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) long before the first electronic computers came along.  These women were breaking the mold – they were working outside of the home even after having children, they were working alongside of engineers without bearing the official title, and they were the only women in their all-male math classes.  By sharing the stories of these women throughout the last seven decades, this book takes a reader through the challenges and the joys of being a women in a field dominated by men.  Their personal narratives were researched, compiled, and shared in a very readable and engaging format.  While focused on women, Holt also discusses the daily intersectionality of race, politics, money, and science.  Rise of the Rocket Girls shares experiences that simultaneously present how different, and yet how similar, our world is for women compared to their first day of work at JPL in the 1950’s.

            Another inspiring aspect of the book was the work that all of these men and women completed without the help of modern technology.  The women got their start developing cutting edge rockets with a pencil, notebook paper, and carefully plotted graphs.  The first computer as we know it, prone to overheating and needing much manual effort, was less than spectacular.  Eventually more modern computers meant that the women had to learn and develop code before most of their peers at the risk of losing their job to the machine.

            Through reading Rise of the Rocket Girls, advisers in the STEM field can gain context to the development of the field in which their advisees will enter (most specifically, the historical context of women in STEM).  This book is helpful for students who have an interest in the history of space exploration, young women who would benefit from women role models in STEM, and as a common reading for a STEM program.  This could be an eye-opening reading to promote guided discussion about the experience of being a minority in education and in a career.  Finally, the narratives could help women communicate their own experiences in a STEM field dominated by men.

Rise of the Rocket Girls. (2016). Natalia Holt, Little, Brown and Company. 368 pp., $27.00, (Paperback), ISBN #978-0-316-33892-9, http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/authors/nathalia-holt.  

Posted in: 2016 Book Reviews
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