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American Women Scientists: 23 Inspiring Biographies, 1900-2000.

Moira Davison Reynolds, AMERICAN WOMEN SCIENTISTS: 23 INSPIRING BIOGRAPHIES, 1900-2000. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2004 [paperback reprint of 1999 hardcover]. 149p. bibl. index. $24.95, ISBN 0786421614.

A cytologist who demonstrated that the Y chromosome determines maleness; a psychiatrist who disputed Freud's theories; a computer programmer who championed the COBOL language. Six Nobel laureates. From Astronomy to Zoology, Moira Davison Reynolds profiles women trained in a variety of scientific disciplines in American Women Scientists: 23 Inspiring Biographies, 1900-2000. Starting with Cornelia Clapp and ending with Mary Good, the volume also includes biographies of Annie Jump Cannon, Gerty Cori, Barbara McClintock, Virginia Apgar, and Rachel Carson. Surprisingly, no African-American women are included.

Aimed at a popular audience, each four- to six-page biography provides family and personal history, outlines the scientist's formal training and employment, and highlights the scientist's contribution to her chosen field. Reynolds does an excellent job of explaining the scientific and historical context within which each woman worked. Although American Women Scientists is heavy on the first half of the twentieth century, the profiles of later women are bolstered by personal communication with the author, herself a retired biochemist. An illustration accompanies each biography. Reynolds cross-references the biographies where appropriate, and the bibliography includes primary research by the scientists profiled. The unique strength of Reynolds' work is in combining the personal stories of these women with their professional struggles and accomplishments. Unfortunately, too much emphasis is placed on physical appearance. This approach can make these highly specialized scientists more real to the reader. For example, we learn that experimental nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, noted for her beauty, ordered her clothing from China as a continued connection to her homeland. However, it can also lead to some wild conclusions. For example, public-health reformer Florence Sabin "accepted the fact that she lacked good looks and had to wear glasses; this may have contributed to her decision to reject marriage in favor of a demanding career" (pp.31-32). Within each biography, the chronology itself can be confusing. Luckily, the women profiled shine despite Reynolds' style remarks and choppy prose.

In her epilogue, Reynolds highlights some common threads among the women she has chosen: supportive families, dedication, perseverance, and enthusiasm for science. She gives the general reader an idea of what it means to be a successful scientist (male or female) in academia and in industry. Reynolds rightly comes to no definitive conclusions about the work vs. marriage debate but simply states, "To include marriage and children in a successful career is a continuing problem for women" (p. 140).

With its substantial entries, American Women Scientists can serve as a complement to other biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias of women in science. Useful for its wide variety of scientific disciplines, this volume of personal and professional stories of American women scientists should inspire the next generation of scientists.

[Kate Anderson is an Associate Academic Librarian at Wendt Engineering Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.]

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Author:Anderson, Kate
Publication:Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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