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Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  7,571 ratings  ·  1,241 reviews
The riveting true story of the women who launched America into space.

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, transfo
Hardcover, 338 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
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Phil In fact the women at JPL formed a unique coalition that worked, learned and grew intellectually from one another in their respected fields, in spite o…moreIn fact the women at JPL formed a unique coalition that worked, learned and grew intellectually from one another in their respected fields, in spite of being underpaid compared to their male counterparts. They did more than their share of the intellectual “heavy lifting”.
At same time Macie, in today’s governmental related oversite, would have many “reverse discrimination” claims placed against her and the organization. She did not hire males, and in my opinion with good reasons. Macie had the vision and foresight to expose “her girls” as the brilliant minds and determined individuals they were, without the help or camaraderie of a male equals. It is a beautiful part of American history that highlights the ability of minds unshackled.
Elisabeth I recommend both. Rise of the Rocket Girls is less coherently written and therefore a more difficult read, but both contain invaluable original resear…moreI recommend both. Rise of the Rocket Girls is less coherently written and therefore a more difficult read, but both contain invaluable original research about different people working in different parts of the Space Program.(less)

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A.J. Fitzwater
Aug 02, 2016 rated it did not like it
I could not finish this book. I read 1/3 then skimmed the rest.

The history is put in such a sexist framework, I felt I was reading creative non-fiction, a script for a movie, or a historical fiction retelling. The focus on the women's attractiveness, romantic affairs, and having babies was not at all appropriate to their scientific contribution and ground breaking achievements in a time when women were excluded from scientific endeavour and the work force. If the book had intended to interrogate
Bethany Fair
May 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
I wish I could give this 2.5 stars. While I enjoyed the author's intentions and much of the history, Holt is a lackluster storyteller at best with a tendency to portray her "rocket girls" as giddy, impressionable preteens who are more concerned with "correcting their wind-blown girlish hair" than they are with representing themselves as agents of their own careers. Every shallow description of "Barbara's slim A-line skirt" belies the seriousness with which she hopes the readers will perceive the ...more
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating look into the lives of the women who have worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from its inception in the 1940s until today. Despite my interest in NASA and the history of space program, I didn't know much about JPL and was blown away by the stories of the women who were doing such important work at a time when women were not encouraged to have careers at all, much less careers in science. I also thought it was really interesting to learn about how things worked in the in ...more
Oct 24, 2016 rated it it was ok
I think the author misunderstood her audience's interest in looks and clothes. The Nancy Drew style of writing put me off, the book wasn't particularly well organized, and I did a lot of skimming of the last 2/3.

An important story that should be told. But perhaps by a different author.
aPriL does feral sometimes
'Rise of the Rocket Girls' is an excellent read, as well as a well-researched and organized history of the involvement of women 'computers' working for the Jet Propulsion Lab. Nathalia Holt's book left me feeling happy.

World War II ushered in a new desire from all combatants for improved weapons of war. All involved governments spent as much money as they could on stocking up on weapons. Missile development was in its infancy before the war had started, but of course, once the war began in earne
Audiobook narrated by Erin Bennett 9h 45 min 49 seconds

Decided to abandon (at 3hours 21 minutes) for two reasons; First, it was incredibly researched, but too much backstories. Second, the narrator read off the chapters (1-6) very robotically.

Conclusion: Good intentions but it just wasn't for me.
Sitting at her desk... [Barbara] ran a finger over her pantyhose.
... The garter belt was uncomfortable, often digging into a woman's stomach and legs. Pantyhose came about in the late 1950s when Ethel Boone Gant had had enough.
... While Barbara didn't intend to start wearing miniskirts, there was a new style she wanted to try.
... While trying out their new fashion-forward outfits, they were also debugging programs. A computer bug was a problem in the code. The term had been coined by Thomas Edis
Super fascinating topic to highlight these amazing women; unfortunately I didn't super love the writing style and slogged through this. ...more
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've had this one for a while and finally decided to tackle it. I was a little hesitant because it had the potential of being dry, since I'm so not a science geek. But I completely enjoyed this. It was a wonderful read. The women in this book were such great examples not only to all women, but also to the men in their world.

This book covers a group of women who were hired by the Jet Propulsion Lab as number crunchers. IBM kept coming up with ginormous calculators to do the math, but they were ne
Lisa Kay
★★★★½ I’m still trying to decide what to rate it (4½ or 4 stars). While I loved it, there was A LOT of physics and math. Not that I haven't taken courses in those subjects. Although, I would have liked a few more diagrams, the author does a pretty good job of conveying what these ladies were doing, which was light years beyond my abilities.

I'm very appreciative of what these exceptional young women had to deal with in the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond, being more pioneers than radical rebel
I have heard about these women at JPL for years and am so glad to have the opportunity to learn more about them. The Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) started in the 1930s by a group of male rocket engineers on the campus of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. A group of woman called human computers was responsible for the math involved. The women had degrees in math, physics, chemistry and engineering but were having trouble finding a job after graduation until JPL hired them i ...more
Jun 27, 2016 added it
Shelves: gave-up
How could these brilliant mathematicians be subjected to Miss Guided Missile beauty pageants? How could they be qualified to work with an exclusive rocket research group yet be disallowed to interview for engineering positions? How could these women be expected to pack up and leave when they married and had children?

I was fascinated with these women, their work and their contributions to science but I needed a strong voice of injustice. Instead I got, "Barbara might not be the prettiest girl in
Just A. Bean
This book was really frustrating, and I don't think I was the target audience. I feel like the target audience is maybe teenagers who are generally in favour of science, but know very, very little about history or NASA. Hopefully some of them enjoy it.

From my perspective, it was trying to cover too much ground in way too short a book, and ended up with a very superficial look at a bunch of stuff I already knew about. The stronger sections of the book were probably about JPL's missile days, which
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of the "computers" at Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL), long before that term referred to a piece of electronics, "Rise of the Rocket Girls" traces several stories more-or-less in parallel: the lives of the computers, all women, who found a way to use their mathematical skills in the then-emerging field of military rocketry; the evolution of JPL from a small desert "suicide squad" experimenting with rocket fuels to the designer and overseer of unmanned space exploration; and the chang ...more
Nov 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Battled between 3 - 4 stars, Final 3.5 rocket stars for the women!

I might be a little too close to the overall topic of this book to be completely astounded by it. (computers) I certainly do not put myself in their league; not at all. Goodness, these pioneers worked at the JPL, that's huge. I just mean the early days of computers. (Mine mid-70s) Since I was working for a large corporation at the time, I even got to hear and meet the dynamic, Grace Hooper, twice. In full naval uniform. Anyway, ba
Kaethe Douglas
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved reading about women making a deliberate effort to hire more women into an unwelcoming field. Plus, there's a lot about math and coding for a non-technical book. But also, it's JPL, and they're exploring the solar system, which is as cool as it gets. I really enjoyed the interweaving of professional and personal events and anecdotes. If you're a fan of end notes, these are especially rich.

Library copy.
Mlpmom (Book Reviewer)
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dtb-book, book-club
Loved how this read more like a book than an autobiography. Also loved learning about this amazing women that helped pave the way for future generations! They were so inspiring and I loved getting little bits about their every day life and family as well.
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book tells the story of the women who worked at JPL, the Jet Propulsion Lab, that was part of Caltech and NASA. JPL was founded in the early 1940's. The women were "computers", not "engineers". They did all the calculations for the early experiments in rocket design, moving on to work on designing missles, and then spacecraft. Initially they did all their work with paper, graph paper, and pencil. Then they used mechanical calculators, and slide rules. As the years passed they became softwar ...more
Jun 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
The women are fascinating but the book leaves much to be desired. Simplistic prose; choppy, erratic organization; lack of substance and an overall weak writing style all contribute to a lackluster portrayal of a very dynamic time in both American and women's history. The frequent brushing off of opportunities to discuss social issues of the time (e.g. going no further than, "She was pregnant, so she knew she'd have to quit,") and glossing over all but the most basic science would have left a med ...more
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Okay, so I'm definitely biased because I had the good fortune to meet the author and the majority of the women featured in the book. This is such an inspiring story, for women everywhere, especially in the sciences. I love JPL, female empowerment and space history so really this was the perfect book for me! I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in history of JPL and wanting to learn about the untold story of female programming pioneers. ...more
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
50% general JPL history, 15% general history, 15% general science lessons, 10% fanfic-like scenes involving crinoline, pantyhose, and smoothing one's hair, 5% painful transition sentences.

"While Helen was getting married, America's space program was also making it official."

I feel like only 5% of this book is actually about its purported subject matter. Which, given the subject, is incredibly disappointing.

This is unlike any biography or history book I've ever read. There are no citations wi
Feb 23, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science, dnf
I tried. I really, really tried.

But when a book is supposed to show light on women who history has hidden, a book that I was so excited to read, becomes a sexist shit show, there's only so much a person can take.

"but Barbara wouldn’t consider coming to work looking so informal. Every morning she carefully selected dresses and skirts, wore high heels, and always, no matter how hot the day was, put on stockings. Barbara was playful with her clothing, but not at work. She wasn’t interested in att
Amanda Mae
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a delightful and fascinating read about the women "computers" who helped build the space program in the late 40s, into the 50s, and through to today. We follow a few key women throughout the decades, following the progression of the space program and the role of women in the sciences. The author throws in some fun anecdotes, like when a couple of the women decided it was acceptable to finally wear pant suits, along with the struggles many of these women had in the early days of getting ...more
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I started crying in chapter 2 and then started tearing up every few pages. My mom was an engineer so the book hits close to home. The story is so inspiring and I wish I could hand it to every young girl out there. I just love this book!
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-audio, 2017
Really interesting book about a group of scientists I knew almost nothing about going in. As a modern feminist with a love of science and history, this book hit me in the feels as much as the mind.
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
great book to listen to...I really enjoyed learning about the evolution of computers from people to devices in the history of rocket making in the US
LAPL Reads
Aug 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
When Natalia Holt, scientific researcher and writer, and her husband were searching for a name for their baby daughter, they googled the name Eleanor Frances. Among the names, she became intrigued with Eleanor Francis Helin, a scientist who had worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for over three decades, starting in the 1960s. Who was this woman and were there other women working at NASA during this time? Two births emerged: baby daughter Eleanor, and a research project about the women beh ...more
D.R. Oestreicher
Sep 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt intertwines two historical narratives: NASA space exploration and the women at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Both these stories started with World War II, but with the end of that war, the efforts transitioned to scientific missions.

In the beginning women could not be engineers, but they could be computers – women who manually performed the complex calculations required by male engineers. As bad as this discrimination might sound today, it was a great
May 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Expectations: Thoughtful commentary on the struggles of these extraordinarily bright women in a fiercely male-dominated field or perhaps interesting anecdotes from their time at JPL and their lives as working women with their own personal lives relying heavily on primary sources.

Reality: Unnecessary details about form fitting a-line dresses and other banal anecdotes that read as shitty historical fic interspersed with copy-pasted factoids about space history from Wikipedia. If I wa
May 30, 2016 rated it liked it
I was really interested in reading this book, and it was worthwhile and interesting to learn about how women were actually the "computers" doing all of the trajectory/power math and planning for the Jet Propulsion Lab's space projects, but I wanted it to go deeper into their work. How did they work with the male "engineers" and what was the division of labor? It was hard to tell whether the women just solved problems asked by the engineers or whether they were an integral part of the design proc ...more
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Nathalia Holt, Ph.D. is a science writer and the New York Times bestselling author of Cured: The People who Defeated HIV and Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science, and Time. She has trained at the Ragon Institute ...more

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