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Rise of the Rocket Girls

The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
Narrated by: Erin Bennett
Length: 9 hrs and 45 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (725 ratings)
Regular price: $24.95
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Publisher's Summary

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, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

For the first time, Rise of the Rocket Girls tells 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, Rise of the Rocket Girls 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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2016 Nathalia Holt (P)2016 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"Engaging history...a fresh contribution to women's history." ( Kirkus)
"The immediacy of Holt's writing makes readers feel as if they're alongside the women during their first view of Jupiter, and beyond." (Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal)
"I stole sleep to finish this book and was happy to do so. I admire how Holt gives voice to a group of important (and lesser-known) female scientists who have in the past been overshadowed by their male counterparts. The domestic and the scientific are elegantly rendered - it is an impressive contribution to American history and I was sad to turn the last page." (TaraShea Nesbit, best-selling author of The Wives of Los Alamos)

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

an insightful history of what women can accomplish

An insightful history of what women can accomplish, when they have a seat at the table. One of the most cognizant points I took away is that women's scientific achievements during this period in history was dependent on having support, a manager that looked to encourage a feminine presence, willingness to hire (or hire back) women that had young children at home, and extended flexibility to its employees. Truly an amazing accounting of the history of space exploration from its humble beginnings, through the lens of an often underrepresented largest minority.

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

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Struggles In Space Exploration

There is an interesting article available on-line from theatlantic.com titled How Sexism Held Back Space Exploration. There is a photo of Helen Ling, one of the women "computers" from this book and Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in the article. It is a fascinating look at the same story told here but from a different angle. To me, the article captures the feeling of frustration I had as I listened to the book. I have to be honest, I was disturbed by the degree of sexism presented in the book and by how it was not handled directly. Instead, it was almost spun into a simple tale of smart plucky women breaking the mold.

Be aware, this is not a complete history of NASA or the space program. Instead, Holt kept her focus directly on the lives of the women, their struggles juggling marriage, home, family and work. It was clear how devoted and captivated the women were by the work the did at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the parts they played in furthering space exploration. I just felt frustrated and angry on their behalf.

This was an interesting, if at times thin look at the lives of a subset of women from 1936 through the current day. There are numerous sites on-line with old photos and background information that are worth a look. Do read the article mentioned above. It helps to expand the story and adds depth to the book.

92 of 100 people found this review helpful

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Disappointing and trivial

I really struggling to finish this book. I kept pushing myself to continue and finally gave up just after the halfway point. I started reading this book with the hope that it would include details about the work these women did and insights/case studies about their struggles. It ended up being mostly comprised of generic descriptions and was lean on details. there were too many people to keep track of and there wasn't a clear focus on the work they did or the differences between their experiences and the men's experiences.

54 of 60 people found this review helpful

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Women in Science

Similar to Hidden Figures and The Code Girls. Same time frame WWII cold War era. But these are different women. Based at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena facing similar problems of women working in a man's world.But this group was more educated and followed them as they had children and raised families. I always wonder where the world would be if men hadn't suppressed half of the population and refused them education. You read about what these small groups of women did when the need was there and I just wonder. What breakthroughs in science and medicine could have been reached if we hadn't suppressed women through the ages.

#SucessStories #Inspiring #ColdWar #WomenInScience #TagsGiving #Sweepstakes

21 of 24 people found this review helpful

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Interesting subject; poorly written

I'm a little disappointed this book wasn't better written. These women's stories are so interesting, but the author took this really cold approach to writing them and then the clumsily peppered in humanizing moments just felt really flat and awkward. I don't think I'd recommend this one.

28 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 04-18-16

Exciting Science, Inspirational Women!

This book really reminded me of my sister: this is about women who can find the design of the Universe in a flower, in the mathematics involved in each of these. These women are the dreamiest kind of artists, and are brilliant!
From the first woman hooking up with The Suicide Squad (who will become the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) through to the longest serving woman member of NASA, "Rise of the Rocket Girls" follows each computer... she who computes... on her journey through changing science, through the changes within our societal structure. I couldn't devour this audiobook fast enough, and I'm listening to it again.
While the science of it can be thorough and daunting, it's so well-written that even I, a different kind of dreamy artist, could follow well enough and could be inspired. It made looking up at the heavens a whole new kind of fun.
Erin Bennett's narration can be a bit officious at times, shows just the tiniest lack of emotion that makes it the tiniest short of a 5-star merit, but she does a great job and doesn't go overboard on the vocal variations in an attempt to make each woman unique. The women are who they are, and their words and lives speak for themselves.
Now if you'll excuse me, as I'm listening to this again, I have to go back to it. I'm at The Sixties, and that was a helluva time for space exploration!

26 of 35 people found this review helpful

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  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 05-07-16

Women on the Way Up

This book is fantastic. It has history, science, sociology, business, and inspiration all rolled into one compelling listen. I just wish I could buy every kid in Southern California a copy.

"Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon" (2016) ranges from Southern California legends and lore to the global story of human space exploration - and women's history. The book celebrates the quiet and until now unsung heroines who were 'leaning in' ("Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" (2013) Sheryl Sandberg) long before Betty Friedan identified the general malaise of the middle class housewife in "The Feminine Mystique" (1963). As Nathalia Holt writes about one of the women she profiled, before the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, "She was snarled in the limits of being born a woman."

There's that old chestnut about the computing power that got us to the moon being about the same as a pocket calculator, but that's not true. The computing power was the best and the brightest women, cloistered at the top of the Arroyo Seco, working long hours - and going home to make dinner and take care of children, a second full time job.

I kept thinking of how far things have come in some ways. There aren't "Miss Guided Missile" contests at the office, and women aren't fired for getting pregnant - but maybe not in others. I worry that even now, women aren't getting paid the same up at NASA's JPL (when you live in the San Gabriel Valley, JPL is always "up") even if they are doing the same job as men.

The rocket science is explained so clearly that I finally understand the concepts, nearly 50 years after I watched the Apollo 11 moon landing while sitting cross legged on a green shag carpet in front of a huge black and white console television. I haven't been obsessing over it for almost half a century, but I really didn't understand how a solid rocket booster was until now.

By the end of the book, I felt that I'd gotten to know the brilliant women profiled in "Rise of the Rocket Girls" so well that I was sad. I felt like I do at the end of a long and happy visit with family or friends - I wished that it could last longer.

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38 of 53 people found this review helpful

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  • B.J.
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 04-22-16

Behind every successful rocket launch ...

there's a room full of brilliant women! Who knew?

This was the first time I'd ever heard about these smart women and what they did to make space exploration possible in the 50s and 60s. I've always wondered what really bright women did "back in the day" when so few opportunities were available to them. Now I know where some of the brilliant mathematicians landed. Their intellectual capacity, camaraderie and dedication to a purpose is awe inspiring. I can't believe we've never honored their contribution to our nation's history and the space program.

Because of another Audible listener and her terrific reviews, I became aware of this book. (Thanks, Gillian!) I agree with her assessment and rave review. This book is well researched and written. The narration doesn't really add anything, but doesn't get in the way. It held my interest from beginning to end and sent me scurrying to find out more.

21 of 30 people found this review helpful

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Interesting/important history but poorly written

This is an interesting look into a little-known (though just about to be Hollywood blockbuster) story of female 'computers' working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). The computers, as they were known, were people who computed the calculations needed for the complex engineering and scientific space missions undertaken by the US Government and later NASA. Starting with rocket design and moving to trajectories, interplanetary communications, orbits, scientific studies of atmospheres, and exploring other planets, these women were the backbone of the success (and fixers of the failures) of those early years of space exploration. More importantly, they were also the first women brought into the space program, the trailblazers for future generations of scientists, engineers and computer programmers who work for NASA today (and the JPL is still the highest employer of women within NASA today). This is their story, laid out by decade, running through a laundry list of space missions and milestones from pre-Sputnik to the Mars rovers.

The book is detailed and interesting, going through both the personal and professional lives of the women involved. Broken into decades, it flows naturally through the space race and into the era of scientific exploration. The downside is that there are just a few too many characters and missions, making it hard to keep track of who is who and who is working on what. This is not helped in the early chapters by the proliferation of nicknames, some giving the ladies men's names, some giving the men ladies' names. The focus on the homelife in the early years also felt like a drag. I wanted to learn about the science they were doing, not the struggles of raising children or wondering if their husbands would like their new dresses. I know, this is the classic story of the struggles of women in second wave feminism and pushing on a closed door (let alone a glass ceiling), but the book was marketed a bit more like a focus on their work not their home lives. Can't have one without the other I suppose, but I was more engaged with the book when the focus was on the science and innovations, and when later in the book the focus became less on the personal than the professional.

In terms of an audio book, the narration wasn't my favourite. The narrator was slow, had a few mis-pronunciations, and seemed to be more excited about the relationships than the science. It could have just been the way the old-time nicknames and 1950's domestic stories come across, but it sounded like an out of date 1950s sitcom.

Overall I'd recommend it to someone interested in the space program or in the role of women in early science institutions. But perhaps get the paperback, not the audio book.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Loved everything about this book!

Any additional comments?

I had no prior knowledge about these women or that their job functions existed. It was so amazing to hear about their professional lives and how dedicated they were to their work. Wonderfully written and read!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful