These 10 books should be on every teenage girl’s bedside table. Whether you’re into fact or fiction, self-improvement or science, history or heroism, you’ll find something valuable to take away from each entry on this list. So are you sitting comfortably? Put down your phone and pick up one of these books instead.
Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt
If you enjoyed Hidden Figures, you’ll love Rise of the Rocket Girls. Author Nathalia Holt has carried out extensive research and interviews into the real-life stories of the ‘human computers’: a group of talented female mathematicians working on the US space programme in the 1940s and 1950s, who carried out manual calculations in the absence of any actual computers. They existed before the ‘Hidden Figures’ – and much of what they did to improve rocket design and develop the first American satellites paved the way for space exploration in later years. It’s a fascinating story – and one made all the more compelling by the insight it gives into the social history of women’s lives in this pivotal stage of the 20th century too.
Blame My Brain: The Amazing Teenage Brain By Nicola Morgan
This is the kind of book teenagers AND their parents should read. As a teenager, it’ll help you understand what’s going on in your brain right now – and how to benefit from the incredible biological changes taking place. As a parent, it might just explain why your teenager doesn’t want to get out of bed before midday and yearns for independence. Blame My Brain is written in an easy-going style and author Nicola Morgan is able to convey complex neuroscience developments in simple terms. There are handy exercises to work through in each chapter, so teens can test what’s going on in their own head; while parents might want to use chapters on risk-taking, self-harm and alcohol as a way to discuss these tricky subjects with their offspring.
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski
This book is for you if you’re struggling to understand the relevance of the science you learn in textbooks to the real world outside the classroom. Author Helen Czerski is a TV presenter and physicist – and she wants everyone to be as passionate as she is about her subject. In the same way that Freakonomics brought economic theories to popular culture, Storm in a Teacup uses small, everyday events to explore some of the biggest theories being investigated by scientists today. Helen presents her arguments in an easy, engaging style and whether you agree with her or not, one thing’s for sure, you’ll never look at the swirling storm in your teacup the same way again.
Women in science by Rachel Ignotofsky
There’s a growing body of work shedding light on the achievements of female scientists and mathematicians over the last two millennia – and Rachel Ignotofsky’s book, Women in science, is about ’50 fearless pioneers who changed the world’ sits firmly in this category. But what distinguishes this hardback from so many others is the beautiful way in which she presents the stories of these 50 women persisting against the odds. There are hand-drawn portraits of each scientist and delicate illustrations doodled in the margins; as well as quirky facts and motivational quotes from each of those featured. It’s a gentle introduction to the topic – and a book you’ll pick up again and again.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
You might be more familiar with this 19th century Gothic classic from your English class, than triple science. But what’s so remarkable about this pioneering science fiction novel isn’t that it was published more than 200 years ago. Or that it was written by a teenager who’d never received any formal education. Or that the author was, in fact, a woman in a male-dominated society (and not her husband, as many critics claimed at the time). Instead, what’s truly impressive about the enduring classic that is Frankenstein, is that Mary Shelley tackles many of the same moral and ethical dilemmas that scientists continue to grapple with today about creation and artificial life (AI).
Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine
If the title of this award-winning book doesn’t draw you in, then Cordelia Fine’s warm and chatty writing style certainly should. But behind her gentle prose, Professor Cordelia Fine has a serious and well-researched point to make: that ‘Testosterone Rex’ – the age-old belief that men and women are hard-wired to be different due to our sex hormones – is fundamentally out of date and ill-founded. Drawing on evolutionary biology, neuroscience and gender psychology, Cordelia deftly picks apart this established theory and imagines a future world in which sex differences no longer have implications for the jobs we do or how we perform at work. It’s a refreshing vision for any teenager looking to their future; but it’s also a reminder of the role of science in challenging outmoded ideas with rigour and research.
The Skills by Mishal Husain
This is the most recently published book on our list, but it’s a worthy addition for the advice that Mishal Husain – a BBC TV and radio presenter, who landed the biggest interview of last year with Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s engagement – has for women on getting ahead in the workplace. The Skills draws on Mishal’s own experiences of getting ahead at the BBC, and insight she’s gleaned from other inspirational females, like Malala Yousafzai, that she’s interviewed over the years. But don’t be phased by the stratospheric careers of these women; for the tips Mishal has to offer are practical too: from not apologising at the start of an email, for instance, to setting your own agenda in an important meeting – like your first job interview – by focusing on the three things you want them to remember about you.
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
This book is a reminder of the importance of scientific rigour and review – not just in critical fields like medicine, where you’re imparting advice to others, but in all walks of life. Bad Science is a funny, if unsettling, read at times about the importance of evidence-based science – and our apparent willingness to overlook it when reading health stories or listening to ‘experts’ in the media. What makes this bestseller so compelling though, is that despite being 10 years old, the lessons journalist Ben Goldacre imparts from lifting the lid on all manner of claims made by ‘quacks’ are still valid today… particularly as we still seem to be as obsessed with ridding our bodies of ‘toxins’ as we were in 2009!
Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiavernini
This historical novel brings a fresh perspective to the life of Ada Lovelace: a woman dubbed the first computer programmer. Much has been written about the recognition due to Ada for her work with Charles Babbage on early versions of a computing machine – there’s even an annual Ada Lovelace Day (October 11) – and of her unconventional upbringing as the daughter of Romantic poet, Lord Byron. But giving her story Enchantress of Numbers a fictional narrative and exploring the plot twists in her life also brings into sharp focus the historical context of the era in which she lived and the excitement that surrounded scientific developments at the time.
Forgotten Women: The Scientists by Zing Tsjeng
For richer context on history’s ‘forgotten’ female scientists, take a look at Zing Tsjeng’s Forgotten Women series on ‘The Scientists’. Zing is a young, successful editor at Vice Media, and brings human interest to each of the subjects she features, so you feel you’re getting to know the real woman behind the Nobel Prize. Inevitably there’s some overlap with Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science on which ‘forgotten women’ are included – but while Rachel’s book might appeal more to younger readers, Zing’s will resonate with older teens. For all ages though, it’s a reminder of the adversity these women faced every day – not just in their lab or workplace, but in education, and, most of all, having their achievements recognised in the history books.