Citywide reading program will focus on the true story of women who launched America into space

SUBMITTED PHOTO - 'Rise of the Rocket Girls' is the 2017 selection for Lake Oswego Reads. The program kicks off on Jan. 9, 2017, with a book giveaway.“Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars” has been selected as the Lake Oswego Reads title for 2017 — the second nonfiction work in a row for the annual citywide reading program.

Science writer Nathalia Holt’s latest book tells the true story of the women — called “human computers” — who launched America into space, breaking the boundaries of both gender and science along the way.

In the 1940s and ’50s, when the newly created Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, the company didn’t turn to male college graduates. Instead, it recruited an elite group of young women who — with only pencil, paper and mathematical prowess — transformed rocket design, helped create the first American satellites and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

Based on extensive research and interviews with all living members of the team, “Rise of the Rocket Girls” offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science. It looks not only at where the U.S. space program has been, but also into the far reaches of space where it is heading.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Science writer Nathalia Holt conducted extensive research and interviews in preparation for writing Rise of the Rocket Girls. “Nathalia Holt’s ‘Rise of the Rocket Girls’ provides a fascinating insight into the work of the first ‘computers,’ the dedicated women who worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and were an integral part of guiding us to the moon and beyond,” says Lake Oswego Public Library Director Bill Baars. “February will be another terrific month of conversations and events. We’ve had some great Lake Oswego Reads programs, but this one should be out of this world.”

Now in its 11th year, Lake Oswego Reads is designed to strengthen civic pride, foster discussion among the city’s residents and bring the community together through the common bond of reading. The program turns the library into a cultural hub, with a variety of special events that feature speakers, music, food, art and more.

Most of the events are free, thanks to the financial support of the Friends of the Lake Oswego Public Library, the Lake Oswego Rotary Club and The Lake Oswego Review.

Next year’s official kickoff celebration is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2017, at the library. Complimentary copies of “Rise of the Rocket Girls” will be distributed to Lake Oswego Public Library cardholders, thanks to the Friends of the Lake Oswego Public Library. Special events will then be held throughout the month of February, including an appearance by the author.

“The hard part is finished — selecting our book for 2017,” says Cyndie Glazer, program manager for Lake Oswego Reads. “Now the fun part begins of finding displays and 30 events that will tie into the book.”

Glazer is hoping to find speakers who live in the Lake Oswego area and who were astronauts, worked at NASA or the Jet Propulsion Lab or are experts on topics related to rockets and space exploration.

“We really appreciate the suggestions that our community will share,” says Glazer, who can be reached at 503-675-2538 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. “We look forward to hearing from you.”

Holt is a science writer with a Ph.D who also wrote “Cured: The People who Defeated HIV.” Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science and Time.

Holt trained at the Ragon Institute of Mass General Hospital, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, as well as the University of Southern California and Tulane University. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in Boston.

Her latest work has been praised as “an immersive, evocative narrative that effectively brings an all-too-forgotten history to life.” It has appeared on the best-seller lists of both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, was an Amazon Best Book of April 2016 and one of Entertainment Weekly’s “10 Best Books You Have to Read in April.”

“Rise of the Rockets Girls” was selected by the steering committee for Lake Oswego Reads, which consists of librarians, community leaders, high school English teachers and high school students. The committee had its work cut out for it: Last year’s selection, Timothy Egan’s “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher,” was an immensely popular account of turn-of-the-century photographer Edward Curtis and his efforts to capture the continent’s original inhabitants before their old ways disappeared.

Committee members read nearly 20 books before deciding on Egan’s work, but after reading and discussing 28 books this year, they believe they’ve got another winner. Andrew Edwards, executive director of the Lakewood Center for the Arts, calls the book “inspiring and thought-provoking.”

“These women defied the sexist stereotypes of their times and changed the course of history,” Edwards says. “A groundbreaking moment in the history of women’s rights.”

Joann Geddes, director of program outreach and development in Lewis & Clark College’s Academic English Studies department, says “Rise of the Rocket Girls” exposed her to “a world I had not known existed.”

“Nathalia Holt follows the lives and work of a few key women during the 1940s and ’50s and highlights their contributions as ‘computers’ to the evolution of the U.S. space program. That this little-known look at our history is set within that particular cultural context and told in the voices of that era might challenge gender and feminist perspectives of our times, but this too will surely give us much to ponder and debate during the 2017 Lake Oswego Reads program,” Geddes says. “I will surely never look at a computer or think of that term in the same way again, and I believe that the story of these pioneering female ‘computers’ is one that will inform, captivate and inspire readers of all ages.”

Several committee members, including Lake Oswego librarian Shannon Sedell, say they were drawn to the book because of ongoing conversations about how to inspire more young women to pursue careers in science and mathematics.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The logo celebrates Lake Oswego and the latest book selection.“’Rise of the Rocket Girls’ is a significant story,” Sedell says, “and I believe that it will inspire important and interesting conversations about the role of women in STEM professions over the years.”

Other committee members say they’re looking forward to a full month of space-related events.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am eagerly anticipating the wide range of interesting programming and spirited community discussion,” says Nancy Niland, president of the Friends of the Lake Oswego Library. “Is it February yet?”

For a complete list of all 28 books the committee read before choosing “Rise of the Rocket Girls,” go to For Lake Oswego Reads updates, visit

By Barb Randall
Staff Reporter
503-636-1281 Ext 100
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