Women In STEM: 9 Fantastic Novels About Great Minds

Today, women in STEM are not recognized and praised enough for their contributions to inventions and science that have built our world. Let’s change that.

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rocket girls by nathalia holt

There’s no doubt that female scientists and inventors have tremendously impacted our understanding of the world and beyond. Nevertheless, centuries worth of their work remains unrecognized, and even today, the STEM field is dominated by men.

From biographies to engaging fiction novels, literature is a perfect way to explore the works of women underestimated by society. To celebrate some amazing and inspiring women this Women’s History Month, here are nine novels written by women about women in STEM. Hopefully, they’ll allow you to honor the women who pursue these careers and inspire future generations to do the same.

1. Her Hidden Genius by Marie Benedict

Her Hidden Genius cover

Marie Benedict’s powerful new novel shines a light on a woman who sacrificed her life to discover the nature of our very DNA, a woman whose world-changing contributions were hidden by the men around her but whose relentless drive advanced our understanding of humankind.

The story follows Rosalind Franklin, a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, Franklin’s contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely unrecognized. Because of this, she has often been referred to as the wronged heroine of science.

If she just takes one more X-ray picture, she can unlock the building blocks of life. Never again will she have to listen to her colleagues complain about her, especially Maurice Wilkins who’d rather conspire about genetics with James Watson and Francis Crick than work alongside her. She succeeds and the double helix structure of DNA reveals itself to her with perfect clarity. What follows, however, Franklin could never have predicted.

2. In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall

In the Shadow of Man cover

Jane Goodall is obviously one of the most well-known female scientists, famous for her study of chimpanzees. This book, her account of living with primates, is a brilliant tale of discovery and advancement of human knowledge.

Dr. Goodall’s adventure began when the famous anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey suggested that a long-term study of chimpanzees in the wild might shed light on the behavior of our closest living relatives. Accompanied by only her mother and her African assistants, she set up camp in the remote Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania.

For months the project seemed hopeless, seeing nothing but fleeting glimpses of frightened animals. Gradually Goodall won the trust of the animals and was able to record previously unknown behavior, such as the use, and even the making, of tools, a previously known skill exclusive to man. As she came to know the chimps as individuals, she began to understand their complicated social hierarchy and observed many extraordinary behaviors, which have forever changed our understanding of the profound connection between humans and chimpanzees.

3. Spineless by Juli Berwald

Spineless cover

As the subtitle suggests, this novel concerns “the science of jellyfish and the art of growing a backbone.” Berwald tells the story of how, after leaving a career in ocean science, she developed an obsession with jellyfish that drew her back to the sea.

Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting—microscopic spears that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity— is the fastest known motion in the animal kingdom.

Driven by questions about how overfishing, coastal development, and climate change were contributing to a recent jellyfish population explosion, Juli embarks on a scientific adventure. She travels the globe to meet the biologists who devote their careers to jellies, hitches rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raises a jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all, marvels at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders.

4. Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

Rise of the Rocket Girls cover

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.

This novel marks the first ever telling of 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, Holt’s novel 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. Their genius cannot be denied and Holt finally made their influence known. If you’re a fan of the movie, Hidden Figures, and enjoy learning about the science behind space travel, you should definitely give this one a read.

5. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance cover

Sonia Purnell was the first to discover the life and accomplishments of Virginia Hall. This novels is an astounding and inspiring story of heroism, spycraft, resistance, and personal triumph over shocking adversity.

By 1942, Hall became one of the most wanted woman by the Gestapo. As a Special Operations Executive she became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and, despite her prosthetic leg, she lit the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it.

Hall established vast spy networks throughout France, calling for weapons and explosives down from the skies. Even as her face covered wanted posters and a bounty was placed on her head, Hall refused numerous orders to evacuate. She finally escaped through a death-defying hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown. But she plunged back in, adamant that she had more lives to save, and led a victorious guerilla campaign, liberating swathes of France from the Nazis after D-Day.

6. Chrysalis by Kim Todd

Chrysalis cover

Before Darwin, before Audubon, there was Maria Sibylla Merian. An artist turned naturalist known for her botanical illustrations, she was born just sixteen years after Galileo proclaimed that the earth orbited the sun. Todd brings to life a seventeenth-century woman whose boldness and vision would still be exceptional today.

At the age of 50, Merian sailed from Europe to the New World on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis, opening innumerable doors for the field of ecology. Her’s was ab unheard-of journey for any naturalist at that time, much less a woman. This book is the story of that journey.

Merian could never have imagined the routine magic that scientists perform today, but her absolute insistence on studying insects in their natural habitats was so far ahead of its time that it is only now coming back into favor. This novel restores Merian to her rightful place in the history of science, taking us from golden-age Amsterdam, to the Surinam tropics, to modern laboratories where Merian’s insights fuel new approaches to both ecology and genetics.

7. The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill

The Movement of Stars cover

This historical fiction novel follows astronomer Hannah Gardner Price who has very unique plans for her life. When she takes a student under her wing, and a relationship blossoms, Hannah finds herself on an unexpected path that will lead her to greatness. This book is inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America.

The Nantucket Quaker community in which Price was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different and elusive goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.

She meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. But when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah’s standing in the community begins to unravel, challenging her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changing the course of her life forever.

8. The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

The Other Einstein cover - fictional women in stem

Another novel by Marie Benedict, this historical fiction novel zeroes in on a woman you may not have heard much about: Mileva “Mitza” Marić, Albert Einstein’s first wife and a brilliant physicist. Her contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.

Mitza Marić has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart.

But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Marić’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever. A historical fiction in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, Benedict’s novel reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

9. Mother of Invention by Katrine Marçal

Mother of Invention cover - women in stem

Katrine Marçal reveals the shocking ways our deeply ingrained ideas about gender continue to hold us back. Too long have we underestimated the consequences of sexism in our economy and the way it holds all of us, women and men, back. Marçal’s critique sets the record straight and shows how, in a time of crisis, the ingenuity and intelligence of women is the very thing that can save us.

From the beginning of time, women have been pivotal to our society, offering ingenious solutions to some of our most vexing problems. More recently, it is women who have transformed the way we shop online, revolutionized the lives of disabled people, and put the climate crisis at the top of the agenda.

Despite these successes, we still fail to find and fund the game-changing ideas that could alter the future of our planet, giving just 3% of venture capital to female founders. Instead, ingrained ideas about men and women continue to shape our economic decisions, favoring men and leading us to the same tired set of solutions.

If you enjoy learning about and reading novels pertaining to the inspiring women who have built the world around us, here are 7 more book suggestions for you to explore!