When Fiction Teaches Facts!

Memoirs and biographies have been excellent ways to learn about careers. There are still too few of those spotlighting our female heroes.

Thankfully new literary trends are increasing the visibility of the amazing impact women have had on physical and theoretical sciences, mathematics and technology. 

In short form profiles and articles, such as those included on this site, give us examples of the diversity of reach women are having  around the world. Contemporary and historical fiction are hot on the best sellers lists. The determination and courage of women in STEM fields are in demand.

This is encouraging on many fronts. It’s great seeing women get recognized in popular culture for their brains. This shows more people are paying attention to the subjects. We know representation is a powerful motivator.

Science fiction can also inspire us with tales of women of science, facing adversity and breaking through barriers.

During a book tour interview for my book, Moral Code, I was asked questions about the reality of the science I’d worked hard to make realistic and logistically possible. I did admit there was a stark reminder that it was science fiction because my female engineers were not faced with gender biases or harassment. 

I have many reasons I recommend the historical fiction novels below. Whether they are based on real individuals or fictional, they share the ability to show capable females in the context of their challenges with family, society, and the workplace.

Contemporary Fiction*

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus, a national blockbuster this year, is a fantastic novel about an unconventional career path in chemistry. Humor, realism, and a rock-solid leading lady makes this book great. She wanted to continue to work with chemistry, so she sucked it up and hosted a cooking show. She caught the hearts of women everywhere by teaching them confidence, chemistry, and cooking all at the same time. (How many of us have wished for a sharp kitchen knife at work occasionally?)

*Some say the 60’s is historical fiction, I can’t accept that yet.

Biographical Fiction

This genre is written about real women, deeply researched via letters, diaries, working journals and other publications. Conversations and situations can be fictionalized to tie the story together. Marie Benedict isn’t the only one writing in this genre, but she is topping the charts with three of the best about STEM women everyone should know more about.

The Only Woman in the Room features Hedy Lamar a 1940’s actress and inventor of technology which eventually led to Bluetooth tech.

Her Hidden Genius shares Rosalind Franklin’s groundbreaking discoveries around DNA, and the men who took credit for it and a Nobel that should have been hers.

The Other Einstein broke my heart with the tale of her spouse taking credit for her work, despite many knowing Mitza Meric’s contribution. Perfect example of the sayings “Behind every successful man is a great women.”

I ponder how these books will be possible in the future with phone calls taking the place of emotional exchanges and emails being fleeting in nature.

Historical Fiction

The Rose Code – Kate Quinn, focused on three women who worked as WWII code breakers at the secret Bletchley Park facility in England. It compliments a favorite nonfiction, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, where I learned they used newspaper puzzles to find female code breakers.

I was going to keep this about fiction tools for telling our stories, but I just finished Girl Decoded, and heard the author speak. Rena El Kaliouby is a current AI researcher, educator and entrepreneur. She shares the cultural challenges for women getting advance technical degrees and having the freedom to practice in her field. She also illustrates the immigration opportunities and challenges currently obstructing talented women.

It’s important that we lift these stories up as examples of what is possible and the barriers that must be knocked down to make scientific careers more assessable. I’d love to know other books you would add to this list.

If you read fiction and want to share your great shelves of material. I’m on Goodreads and love to connect with curious minds.