Why “Rise of the Rocket Girls” Was The Perfect First Book for 2017


Let me start off by saying that this was not a perfect book. It over generalizes and glosses over big historical moments and gets a little too flowery at times. But honestly? I didn’t care. This book made me feel so hopeful and energized—and that’s exactly what I needed right now.

In Rise of the Rocket Girls, Nathalia Holt chronicles the history of the “human computers” that worked at the Jet Propulsion Labaratory (later a part of NASA). Most of them were women, and they worked behind the scenes doing the calculations necessary to lay the groundwork for space exploration. Her research consisted mainly of interviews with these women, so the book reads more like an oral history/creative nonfiction than a comprehensive history. It works.

One of the things that really stood out for me about this book was the way Holt describes the power structure in the computer department at JPL. Women were put in charge almost from the start, setting a precedence of mentorship and opening doors for opportunity. In short: women were in charge and they got stuff done.

Why do I think this was the perfect book to start 2017? Well, here’s a list.

  1. It shows that there’s always more to the story. When we think of the role of women in the 1950s workplace, we think of teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Even in that oppressive climate, there was room for women to do more—and they did. That seems like such an important thing to remember right now.
  2. It made me feel small. The universe is so BIG. It’s easy to forget that. We should spend more time in awe of the universe. (I know how cheesy that sounds. But seriously.)
  3. It shows the power of showing up and doing the work. I got the biggest smile on my face so many times while reading this. These women had such a specific, intricate job, and the results were rarely immediate. They could have gotten discouraged, but this book is really good at showing how the work paid off.

Does the first book you read in January set the tone for the rest of the year? Not unless you want it to. In this case, I definitely want it to. So here we go.


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