‘Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet’
Claire L. Evans, Portfolio/Penguin, 278 pages, $27.

An insightful, intelligent observer, Claire Evans speaks fluent tech lingo, having written about science and sci-fi for the likes of Vice and Wired. Evans has met and managed to interview most of the principals in the early computer age. Her familiarity puts the reader on a first-name basis with all of them.

The women pioneers who penetrated the mostly male domain of early computing did not always fit the geek mold. When Radia Perlman, for example, enrolled in her first programming course as a high school student in the 1960s, she discovered that her classmates had been dismantling radios and other electronics from a tender age.

“I never took anything apart,” she told Evans. “I would have assumed I would break it or get electrocuted.” Nevertheless, Evans reports, Perlman invented a protocol for moving information that is now fundamental to the way computers are networked.

Such contributions embolden Evans to declare, with emphasis: “Even when women were invisible, it never means they weren’t there.”

It is tempting to think these unsung female presences of the past paved the way for today’s women scientists. In fact they did not. They filled particular niches that opened briefly before closing again, leaving scant evidence, let alone a path to follow. Yet they provide much needed perspective and role models for women in the scientific fields of today.