From the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who broke the story, the inspiring account of the sixteen female scientists who forced MIT to publicly admit it had been discriminating against its female faculty for years—sparking a nationwide reckoning with the pervasive sexism in science.
“Excellent and infuriating.” —The New York Times
In 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitted to discriminating against women on its faculty, forcing institutions across the country to confront a problem they had long ignored: the need for more women at the top levels of science. Written by the journalist who broke the story for The Boston Globe, The Exceptions is the untold story of how sixteen highly accomplished women on the MIT faculty came together to do the work that triggered the historic admission.
The Exceptions centers on the life of Nancy Hopkins, a reluctant feminist who became the leader of the sixteen and a hero to two generations of women in science. Hired to prestigious universities at the dawn of affirmative action efforts in the 1970s, Dr. Hopkins and her peers embarked on their careers believing that discrimination against women was a thing of the past—that science was, at last, a pure meritocracy. For years they explained away the discrimination they experienced as the exception, not the rule. Only when these few women came together after decades of underpayment and the denial of credit, advancement, and equal resources to do their work did they recognize the relentless pattern: women were often marginalized and minimized, especially as they grew older. Meanwhile, men of similar or lesser ability had their career paths paved and widened.
The Exceptions is a powerful yet all-too-familiar story that will resonate with all professional women who experience what those at MIT called “21st-century discrimination”—a subtle and stubborn bias, often unconscious but still damaging. As in bestsellers from Hidden Figures to Lab Girl and Code Girls, we are offered a rare glimpse into the world of high-level scientific research and learn about the extraordinary female scientists whose work has been overlooked throughout history, and how these women courageously fought for fair treatment as they struggled to achieve the recognition they rightfully deserve.
Kate Zernike has been a reporter for The New York Times since 2000. She was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for stories about al-Qaeda before and after the 9/11 terror attacks. She was previously a reporter for The Boston Globe, where she broke the story of MIT’s admission that it had discriminated against women on its faculty, on which The Exceptions is based. The daughter and granddaughter of scientists, she is a graduate of Trinity College at the University of Toronto and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons.
“Excellent and infuriating.”—The New York Times
“Zernike, a wonderful storyteller, seamlessly weaves together contemporary events, facts
and statistics, and telling anecdotes... Zernike's profile of Nancy Hopkins provides brilliant inspiration."—Booklist (starred review)
"A fascinating, heartening account of successful advocacy in the scientific and academic communities.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“What Nancy Hopkins achieved is exceptional—in science of course, but more broadly in society. What Kate Zernike has achieved in this brilliant book is also exceptional—a condemnation of the treatment of women in science and a riveting story about the drive to pursue science."—Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winner The Emperor of All Maladies and the #1 New York Times bestseller The Gene
"A blistering, brave, heartbreaking, and heartening account of brilliant women and the world-changing power of sisterhood and science."
—Janice P. Nimura, author of The Doctors Blackwell
“A gripping case study of the horrors and triumphs of the gender revolution in science.”--Mahzarin R. Banaji, co-author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
"A story I wouldn't believe except that it's true, told by the reporter who broke it first." -- Angela Duckworth, author of Grit
“A stunning account of discrimination against women scientists.”—Kenneth R. Manning, author of Black Apollo of Science
“Two decades ago, MIT recognized the gender inequality in its faculty and publicly began an effort to address the situation. This well researched and well written book tells that story and places it in an historical and national context.”—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams
“Equally gifted as both reporter and storyteller, Kate Zernike has given us a book that is always engaging, at times shocking, and in the end thrilling. The Exceptions is exceptional.”—Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate and Last Call
"A page-turner. Poignant. Infuriating. Inspirational. I read it and was reminded that this work needs to be taken up by each new generation of women in the workplace."—Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT; author of Reclaiming Conversation and The Empathy Diaries