Black Scientists Who Changed the World

By Gwen Glazer, Librarian
February 13, 2017

In honor of Black History Month — and riding high on the box office success of Hidden Figures — we wanted to learn more about the lives of black scientists, many of whom were long overlooked by historians.

Our NYPL book experts recommended biographies for all ages that highlight these women and men of science and the invaluable contributions they made to their fields — medicine, biology, physics, chemistry, and much more.

Know and love other biographies of black scientists? Leave us a comment below!

Picture Books


Vivien Thomas, surgeon: Tiny Stitches by Gwendolyn Hooks


Wangari Maathai, biologist: Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson


Mae Jemison, astronaut: Mae Jemison by Jodie Shepherd


George Washington Carver, agricultural scientist: George Washington Carver by Dana Meachen Rau


Lonnie Johnson, inventor: Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

Books for Slightly Older Kids


Mae Jemison, astronaut: Mae Jemison: Out of This World by Corinne J. Naden and Rose Blue


Susan McKinney Steward, George Washington Carver, Ernest Everett Just, Percy Lavon Julian, and Shirley Ann Jackson: Five Brilliant Scientists by Lynda Jones


Garrett Morgan, inventor: Garrett Morgan by Sarah Schuette


Benjamin Banneker, surveyor: Benjamin Banneker, Pioneering Scientist by Ginger Wadsworth or Benjamin Banneker by Isabel Martin


Patricia Bath, Katherine G. Johnson, Mamie Phipps Clark, Mae Jemison, Jane Cooke Wright, and more: Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky


Daniel Hale Williams: Daniel Hale Williams: Surgeon Who Opened Hearts and Minds by Mike Venezia


George Washington Carver: George Washington Carver by Kitson Jazynka


Mary Eliza Mahoney, Jewel Plummer Cobb, Madame C. J. Walker, and more: Scientists, Healers, and Inventors by Wade Hudson

Books for Adults


Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, mathematicians and space scientists: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly


Marie Maynard Daly and many more: African American Women Chemists by Jeannette E. Brown


Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist: The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson


Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, engineer: Aerospace Engineer Aprille Ericsson by Laura Hamilton Waxman


Stephon Alexander, physicist: The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe by Stephon Alexander

Book suggestions submitted by NYPL book experts: Brian Baer, Jenny Baum, Shauntee Burns, Kathie Coblentz, Jennifer Craft, Althea Georges, Susan Tucker Heimbach, Katrina Ortega, Jeffrey Katz, Annie Lin, Amber Moller, Nanor Pagosian, Isaiah Pittman, Jenny Rosenoff, Anne Rouyer, and Amie Wright.

**All images courtesy of Wikipedia except Aprille Ericsson-Jackson, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr; Stephon Alexander, from; Benjamin Bannecker, from


Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!