Cardy Raper’s “A Woman of Science” is an inspirational memoir about a woman swimming upstream in a man’s world: The world of science.
Even today, a fraction of full science professors are female, but Raper was fighting for attention in the world of microbiology and molecular genetics decades ago.
She writes her story in a straightforward, pretty much chronological manner. I must confess I still don’t entirely understand the sex life of mushrooms but I clearly understood that she does. The type of mushroom she studied has thousands of genders — imagine how complicated that kind of diversity would make human sexuality!
I most enjoyed her retelling of her early years with five brothers, separating herself from her flaky sorority sisters and fighting for the attentions of the man she would someday marry, Red Raper, an accomplished scientist with whom her association paved the way for her later successes. There’s a dash of scandal in their coupling, and I found the way she addresses this to be interesting.
I confess to skimming through the scientific details of her discoveries (I belatedly found the glossary in back), but a reader with more of an interest in biology and genetics would probably appreciate her attention to detail.
Raper candidly tells her story of navigating sexism, early widowhood and the politics of academia. At 83, she probably has the guts to tell it like it is and as a scientist, she’s probably less likely than, say, a marketing expert to spin the facts.
I’m passing this book along to my stepdaughter whose understanding of math and science concepts far surpasses my own.