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The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  268 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Why are the fields of science and technology still considered to be predominantly male professions? The Madame Curie Complex moves beyond the most common explanations--limited access to professional training, lack of resources, exclusion from social networks of men--to give historical context and unexpected revelations about women's contributions to the sciences.

Paperback, 312 pages
Published March 1st 2010 by Feminist Press
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Marie desJardins
Oct 15, 2010 rated it liked it
I thought this had some really interesting material -- and I wanted to like it more than I did. I had three main problems with it, though.

First, by focusing almost entirely on extremely successful, high-profile women scientists, Des Jardins (no relation! :-) skews the picture of what it is actually like to be a woman in science. There is an implicit message that women are only successful if they're *super*-successful, even though the vast majority of scientists (male and female) are not super-s
Jennifer Glass
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
A beautifully written and extremely well-researched book. The best non-fiction book I've read in ages. I loved des Jardins' developed of the "Curie Complex", as captured on the final page of the book: "The persistent presumption that women must be more devoted, more myopic, more talented than men is a sign that modern womanhood is still defined by traditional domesticity to some degree, and modern science is still defined as its antithesis". Amen. This book educated me about the historical detai ...more
Jenny T
Mar 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, read-in-2010
An extremely well-researched (and cited), well-written look at the history of women in science, exploring the reasons behind the lack of recognition for female scientists as well as describing how women have changed the very nature and definition of what "science" entails.

The book begins with a discusion of Marie Curie and how her work both helped and hindered women's participation in the traditionally male world of "hard" science. Then come Annie Cannon and the women who worked at the Harvard O
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, books-i-own
This is by far one of the most informative books I've read about the role of women in science. With a combination of biographies and philosophical insight, des Jardins narrates how science having been an all boys' game has always meant that generously extra helping of hard work for women to survive and thrive. And despite that progress has been painfully slowly over the century and even now.

She splits the 20th century into three sections to group the scientists - Upto 1940 (Mme. Curie, Lillian G
Oct 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Naomi by: Liz Boucher
This was one of those non-fiction books that was written in such an engaging way that I really had a hard time putting it down. The Madame Curie Complex is about the women behind the scenes of science over the past couple of centuries and the obstacles they faced in blazing trails of discovery. I found this to be inspirational at the same time as somewhat disheartening. As a woman scientist myself, I often struggle with feelings of inadequacy next to my male peers, but have to remind myself that ...more
Apr 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Such an interesting, well-researched book. The troubling part is that many of the issues she points out which women scientists faced at the turn of the 20th century are still endemic to women scientists today.
May 11, 2017 rated it liked it
I overall liked this book. It gave me a lot to think about and made me realize how little I know about women in history period and how mistreated they were for going into a "mans world." This book has made me wonder a lot about today's woman. I have chosen a more traditional world to live in and love it, but am not in the thick and thin of a "mans world." I really don't think of it as a mans world and so I wonder if in the enlightened world of 2017 if women are truly still thought of as less tha ...more
May 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
This book was well researched and very detailed. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in women in science. I felt it dragged on a bit so much so that the point could easily be missed. ...more
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, careful critical thinking
Ms. Online
Reviewed by: Catherine A. Traywick

The persistent dearth of women scientists has been researched, contested and speculated upon in recent years, with study after study interpreting this paucity as born of bias, biology or some combination of both. But amid this understandable concern about why so few women succeed in science, another significant question is often neglected: how the few women who have succeeded managed to do so.

Fortunately, a new book out b
Amanda--A Scientist Reads
I'd like for us to play a little game. When you are asked to name a female scientist, who immediately comes to mind? Was that person Marie Curie? It wasn't. Okay, was it Rosalind Franklin? .. That's what I thought.

There is a halo of being the most recognized female scientist of all time, that means your name becomes the default answer to any questions about women in science. This is completely independent of actual knowledge of your life and work. I have a friend who names Curie as his favorite
Mar 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book really resonated with me, as a PhD candidate in engineering. I'm glad that there have been plenty of women before me to pave the way, and I am always conscious that women still have a long way to go before we can live and work in science in any sort of "post-gender" context.

I've read short biographies about women scientists before, but this one really gave a lot of context about the lives of many female scientists and the pervasive sexism they faced throughout the twentieth century. As
Becki Iverson
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing read that will launch 1,000 more - there are so many incredible women I learned about through this book who I otherwise would never have heard of. It's more of a 4.5 but I rounded up the stars because I think the subject matter is so important. The long history of women's difficulty entering scientific fields is well researched here, although I wish it was a little more diverse including a wider range of women of color. I appreciated how the book grouped subjects roughly by e ...more
May 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
This text highlights snapshots of women in science from 1880 through the 1970's, during which time, the inherent roles women had played in science pushed forward to allow women to have more open participation. However, this is not a fairy tale, and highlights a multitude of struggles women have faced and continue to face in the field. It is simultaneously encouraging and disheartening but leaves the reader with hope for future positive change, not just in how women are employed in science or oth ...more
Apr 03, 2012 rated it liked it
The bulk of the work is informative and interesting, however, once the Trimates are discussed I find the editorial work tangled in assumptions. The book is about science done at a time when women were clearly the other, but I was disappointed by the continued either/or presentation in the final chapter. The last chapter emphasized the femininity of women's research and created a dichotomy between the feminine and masculine science. The subtext of that chapter sets up women as 'mother earth' and ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Short but detailed biographies of several female scientists (including Marie Curie). What is interesting is that not only did they have the same work-life balance issues that modern women have (although most were lucky to have nannies or mothers to watch their kids/keep house while they worked in the lab) but also many did not view themselves as being "trail blazers" and were consequently not as helpful/understanding to other women in their labs as one might think they would be. While the book w ...more
Mar 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010
I originally picked up this book because as a woman who earned a science degree I was always fascinated in school that we rarely heard about women's contributions to science, with Marie Curie as the obvious exception, and I had hoped to learn more about that contribution. To that end, the book met my expectations. However, the writing was incredibly dry and I felt like in many ways I was reading the same story over and over. I'd say this was definitely an interesting topic but I don't think the ...more
some real issues with weird creeping sexism in the writer's interpretation of things (like casually praising women who made do with their pay and roles in labs, but referring a lady who insisted on equal pay for equal work as "carping") and some statements were directly contradicted pages later. i didn't think it was too dry, but i did think it was trying hard to not be too dry, which is worse. hard to get through for me, which was a bummer since i love feminist readings of history, and generall ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it liked it
I was very interested in learning about female scientists of the past that weren't in my history lessons. This book succeeded in teaching me about the life and accomplishments of some of them in addition to the sexist barriers they had to contend with. It was a bit repetitive and preaching at times, while sending off warning signals at other times. Particularly I was annoyed with the frequent use of "woman scientist" instead of female scientist, it sounds like they were studying women instead of ...more
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
This was a really good feminist view of famous female scientists through the ages. Julie Des Jardins writes about the lives of these scientists not to sensationalise, but to allow readers to understand how they fit into feminist ideology and what we can learn from their life and their science. I learnt a lot about these scientists and felt inspired to continue my own studies. I also found a lot of books to put on my to-read list thanks to her incredibly well-cited chapters and her own book recom ...more
Apr 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
This is an interesting history of women in science. Everyone has heard of Marie Curie but many other women have made contributions to various science fields. In the early years, many women could only work in science with their husbands and were shut out after their husbands died. Later women could work in labs but men took credit for their research. The essays were informative but contained just enough personal stories and quotes to keep them entertaining as well.
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
The story of women's contributions to science is interesting, especially when the author puts it into a cultural context. Yet, the writing style made it read like a dissertation. Many points were reiterated and you almost felt the checklist of famous scientists, famous scientist's wives, and those few female scientists who were famous in their own right being summarily checked off. Not light or engaging reading. ...more
An excellent series of essays about female scientists and the struggle for gender equality. I would love to read more about these women! I found each essay to be a very compelling story. Hard to set the book down.

The author joined us as my book club, and it was fascinating to hear her speak further about the scientists and the making of the book. I look forward to reading her next book!
Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. The topic is fascinating, and it was well-researched, well-written and engaging. A small thing not related to the content, but this book has an atypical ratio of width to height. It's about 1/2" wider than a typical paperback the same height, which means it stays open on a desk without heroic assistance. So very convenient when writing! ...more
Jul 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: feminism, non-fiction
I have mixed feelings about this book. It was interesting to read all about the female scientists discussed in this book, although kind of depressing to see how many of the same challenges are around today. At the same time, I feel like the author was trying to connect the stories together to make a point about women in science, and I don't think that came across very clearly. ...more
Philipe Saroyan
Oct 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Well soughtout and researched novel on the lives of modern women in the field of science. Definitely a good resource book and barometer of our 'glass ceiling' in America. Mme. Des Jardins gives a didactic account of the very real stigmatism towards women in the field of hard sciences while providing very fascinating stories of notable women. ...more
Julie Ellis
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
The premise of this book is that women in scientific fields have traditionally had to work twice as hard as men to be half as accepted. Well, that's hardly earth shattering news. However, as a history of women in science it was intresting. ...more
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Excellent survey of the history of women in twentieth century science. The focus is largely on the inequities and barriers experienced by women working in the sciences,but the book also provides a window on the lives of some fascinating scientists I had not previously read much about.
Apr 23, 2011 marked it as to-read
Been wondering for the past few months if I actually owned this (almost 100% sure I bought it) but had no clue where it was if that was the case?! Finally found it buried way back in a stack on my nightstand shelf.. sheesh. Swift!
Jun 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: medical
A worthy subject, but this book of essays doesn't pack enough punch. It's a pity because the subjects are all wonderfully interesting individuals. The writing clunks along like the dry pages of a grad student's thesis, leaving the lives of these remarkable women flat on the page.
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