Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt


First things first, the full title of this book is actually Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars, which is the winner for longest book title featured on this blog to date.

This book came into my life at the end of last year, via a book club group that focuses on stories about women in science (Yes, they sometimes let dairy products into book clubs if we’re really, really nice to the organizer). Since this group has such a limited selection of books to choose from, the stuff we read isn’t always very good. This book was one of the wonderful exceptions (some other notable ‘good stuff’ this group has read includes The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and The Madame Curie Complex).

As for Rise of the Rocket Girls, the story centers around several female computers who helped form the American space program.

What I liked most about this book is that it follows the history of the formation and subsequent of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and puts the women into the context of how this organization changed and grew, in the then greater context of how the American space race occurred. By structuring the book this way, Holt made it very clear how the women were fundamental in the shaping of the program from missiles to rockets and satellites. Holt’s ability to build tension in the story was also superb; even though you know which projects were successful or failures, you’re still on the edge of your seat as the women watch their work come to life on the national stage.

At the same time, Holt also spends a good portion of the book talking about and commenting upon the women’s personal lives. While their personal lives were important to the story (such as how they struggled to balance childcare and working in the time period), I felt as if too much of the book was devoted to their dating life or marriages. What was interesting about these women was the ways that the navigated the social climate to work with math and science, but it seemed almost as if Holt felt that she needed to add all these extra details about their lives to make the science interesting.

Overall it was good book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wanted to know more about the women who helped build the space program.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE? So there isn’t a movie for this book, but there is the similarly themed film Hidden Figures, which was fantastic! Plus, the movie focuses on the women of color who were computers, as opposed to Holt’s focus on white women, which was an even more interesting look into how the social climate of the time period impacted the development of the space program. So while ideally I believe you should read the book and see the movie, if you’ve only got the time for one, check out the movie version.

Image result for hidden figures gif


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