YA Science

THE WOMAN ALL SPIES FEAR by Amy Butler Greenfield

Posted on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

When Elizebeth Smith accepted a job studying Shakespeare’s First Folio on a wealthy man’s estate, her primary motivation was to escape her domineering father’s household. But this unusual opportunity would set her life on a new and unexpected course. On the estate, she met fellow employee William Friedman and the two began collaborating on code breaking projects. Their partnership would become both professional and romantic, skyrocketing them both into positions as elite cryptanalysts for the United States government. Though William would become famous for heading the team that cracked the Japanese code machine “Purple” and for his role in the fledgeling NSA, Elizebeth’s contributions to her country were less celebrated and in some cases attributed to others–men, of course. But Elizebeth’s incredible work not only saved American lives in both World Wars but broke down barriers for women in intelligence work and pushed the boundaries of code breaking.

Spanning two wars and featuring colorful characters from eccentric millionaires to rumrunning gangsters, this true story at times feels like fiction. Though marketed to teens, adults will enjoy this fascinating biography just as much as younger readers. Greenfield is honest about holes in the historical record but still manages to uncover enough information to piece together a cohesive picture of Friedman’s secretive life and contribution to counterintelligence. Bits of code included in the text along with instructions for deciphering it add a beautiful interactive element to the book. I highly recommend this one to teens and adults alike!

LAST OF THE GIANTS: THE RISE AND FALL OF EARTH’S MOST DOMINANT SPECIES by Jeff Campbell

Posted on

How would you feel if you encountered a 12 ft. tall bird? Or a 6 ft. tall, 10 ft. long ox?  As strange and potentially alarming as they might sound, these and other giant creatures ruled their ecosystems until humans hastened their extinction.  In his book, Campbell describe the origins, history, role, and extinction of thirteen “giants” of nature.  Each account is incredibly interesting, but detailed and written with a sophisticated, scientific style that may not appeal to all of the teen readers to whom it is marketed.  Despite a few half-hearted and awkward references to social media, and an occasional break in tone for an attempt at teen-speak, the book reads like a scientific article.  So while it won’t attract a broad teen audience, it is fantastic for high schoolers and adults who are interested in the subject matter and looking for a well-researched, thorough narrative about the evolution, impact, and decline of each species–as well as a glimpse into the future of possible back-breeding to restore giants into the ecosystem. 

An engaging read which I recommend to older teens and adults who are interested in biology and/or history.

WRITTEN IN BONE: BURIED LIVES OF JAMESTOWN AND COLONIAL MARYLAND by Sally M. Walker

Posted on Updated on

Skeletons speak to forensic anthropologists, the scientists who study the bones found in archaeological digs.  Simply from looking at bones which have spent hundreds of years buried underground, forensic anthropologists can determine the age, sex, race, and sometimes even profession of the person to whom they belonged.  By comparing to historical records the information gleaned from the bones, they may even be able to pinpoint the skeleton’s name.

Sally M. Walker describes archaeological digs in Colonial Virginia and Maryland that uncovered a number of graves from the 17th and 18th centuries.  She frames her story almost as a mystery, as the scientists seek to uncover the identity of the person whose bones they have rediscovered, and she describes both the science and the history that surround their process.  Written in Bone is a fascinating and engaging nonfiction story.  I highly recommend this book to middle grade and teen readers who enjoy science and/or history.

If you liked Written in Bone, you might like Phineas Gage: a Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science or Extreme Scientists. 

THE LONGITUDE PRIZE by Joan Dash

Posted on Updated on

By the eighteenth century, the world had made great advances in science and technology.  Yet no one had a scientific way of calculating the exact position of a ship at sea, a problem which resulted in thousands of deaths in shipwrecks around the world.  Desperate to prevent future tragedies like the Royal Navy shipwreck off the Scilly Islands in 1707, British Parliament offered a £20,000 prize (roughly equivalent to £3 million or $4.8 million today!) to anyone who devised an accurate way of measuring longitude at sea.  The world’s finest astronomers rose to the challenge, but a quick-tempered village carpenter and clockmaker set his mind to the task, as well, and created an invention that would revolutionize ocean travel for years to come.

Readers who are interested in ships, sea-faring stories, or inventors should definitely check out this fascinating non-fiction book which uses a blend of history, science, and biography to tell the story of John Harrison’s amazing clocks and his race against all odds to win the longitude prize.  I would recommend The Longitude Prize especially to readers in grades 4-8. 

If you liked The Longitude Prize, you might like Revenge of the Whale, Phineas Gage, or Black Hands, White Sails.

PHINEAS GAGE: A GRUESOME BUT TRUE STORY ABOUT BRAIN SCIENCE by John Fleischman

Posted on Updated on

In 1848, a railroad worker named Phineas Gage was in a horrible explosion that drove a 3.5 foot long, thirteen pound, spear-like iron rod through his skull and brain–and he survived!  He never even lost consciousness. For eleven years after his accident, Phineas Gage was a marvel of human physiology and taught doctors an enormous amount about the brain.  John Fleischman’s book tells the story of Phineas Gage’s accident in all of its gory detail and then traces the scientific explanations of his survival and the personality changes that happened after his accident, as well as how his case influenced the history of neuroscience.  This book will be most interesting to middle and high-schoolers, especially those interested in science, but also has a strong “strange-but-true” and grossness factor.  Even upper elementary-schoolers who enjoy the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books will enjoy the first chapter of this book (the story of the accident) and all of the cool photos and illustrations.  This book is fascinating!  I highly recommend it!

If you liked Phineas Gage, you might like Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland or Extreme Scientists.