Book Review: Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space – Lynn Scherr

Sally Ride coverTitle: Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space
Author: Lynn Sherr
ISBN: 9781476725765
Pages: 400
Release Date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Space
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

In this in-depth biography of the late Dr. Ride, America’s first woman in space, journalist and friend Lynn Scherr tells Ride’s remarkable story. Scherr explores Dr. Ride’s professional life, from tennis player to astronaut and beyond, but also discusses Ride’s personal life, much of which wasn’t known to the public until after Ride’s death.

Snapshot Review:

An in-depth biography of the late Dr. Ride, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space is a well-written and well-researched account of the celebrated astronaut that will help readers come to know and understand this complicated woman.

Full Review:

We all know the basics of Dr. Sally Ride’s life—she was the first American woman in space, something that propelled her to celebrity status. But who was Dr. Ride really? It’s not an easy question to ask, and the answer is murky at best. But Lynn Scherr does a great job regardless, giving the reader a portrait of this intensely private woman who lived so much of her life in the public eye.

Scherr starts at the beginning in Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, following Sally through her childhood and educational years. Scherr had the cooperation and support of those closest to Sally—her family, friends, colleagues, partners, and more—so the reader really gets a comprehensive picture of what Ride was like during her formative years. It’s easy to see the brash, confident woman becoming the astronaut that we all celebrated, especially as she shattered glass ceilings left and right, determined to pursue science, no matter how much her professors discouraged her.

The biography follows Ride throughout her career, showing her as disciplined and determined in her professional life. Sally Ride was everything young women everywhere hoped her to be. After flying on the shuttle twice, Dr. Ride participated in the investigation into Challenger’s explosion, trying to make the shuttle safer for her and her colleagues. Her retirement from NASA followed, and that is, it seems, when her real life began. Dr. Ride was free to pursue her real passion: bringing young women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. It’s amazing how hard Dr. Ride worked towards this goal and how many young women she inspired into following in her footsteps.

Dr. Ride’s professional life is where things are a bit more muddled in Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, and not because Lynn Scherr did a less-than-stellar job. It’s actually interesting that despite the fact that Scherr and Ride were close friends, the author doesn’t try to present a rosy picture of the former astronaut. Scherr acknowledges her biases, but then tries to present the most realistic picture she can, and it’s appreciated. Readers can really feel like they get to know Dr. Ride and come to understand who she was.

No, the issue with Dr. Ride’s personal life is the surprising revelation upon her death: that she’d been in a 27-year relationship with a woman, one that her closest friends (including the author) were unaware of. It’s incredibly sad that Ride thought she had to hide this intimate part of herself, that she thought it would hold her back professionally (and even sadder, that she was probably right about it.) Scherr illuminates Ride’s personal life as much as one can, given how private the late Dr. Ride was, and does an exceptional job with it.

If you’re interested at all in biographies, then Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space is absolutely a book worth picking up. Those fellow fans of astronaut biographies will appreciate the depth of this book: Scherr mines every source available. While many astronaut biographies and memoirs feel one-dimensional, Ride’s is colorful and vibrant, full of the personality and imperfection that made up the woman we so admire. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the giants of American history, and it’s good to know that Dr. Ride’s legacy lives on through her work with young women (and men!) in bringing American youth into STEM fields.

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