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Black Scientists Who Changed the World

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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

thomas

Vivien Thomas, surgeon: Tiny Stitches by Gwendolyn Hooks

matthai

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

jemison

Mae Jemison, astronaut: Mae Jemison by Jodie Shepherd

carver

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

johnson

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

 

Books for Slightly Older Kids

mae

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

drew

Charles Drew, surgeon: Charles Drew: The Doctor Who Got the World Pumped Up to Donate Blood

brilliant

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

morgan

Garrett Morgan, inventor: Garrett Morgan by Sarah Schuette

banneker

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

fifty

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

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

carver

George Washington Carver: George Washington Carver by Kitson Jazynka

scientists

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

 

Books for Adults

hidden

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

chemists

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

tyson

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

aprille

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

alexander

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 stephonalexander.org; Benjamin Bannecker, from blackinventor.com

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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!

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Biographies of African American scientists

A wonderful DVD "Something the Lord Made". Tells the amazingly moving and inspiring story of Vivien Thomas 's pioneering work alongside Dr. Alfred Blalock hat resulted in developing the first surgical procedure to repair the hearts of "blue babies".

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