The Exceptions: Nancy Hopkins, MIT, and the Fight for Women in Science (Hardcover)

The Exceptions: Nancy Hopkins, MIT, and the Fight for Women in Science By Kate Zernike Cover Image
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A New York Times Notable Book

As late as 1999, women who succeeded in science were called “exceptional” as if it were unusual for them to be so bright. They were exceptional, not because they could succeed at science but because of all they accomplished despite the hurdles.

“Gripping…one puts down the book inspired by the women’s grit, tenacity, and brilliance.” —Science
“Riveting.” —Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Gene


In 1963, a female student was attending a lecture given by Nobel Prize winner James Watson, then tenured at Harvard. At nineteen, she was struggling to define her future. She had given herself just ten years to fulfill her professional ambitions before starting the family she was expected to have. For women at that time, a future on the usual path of academic science was unimaginable—but during that lecture, young Nancy Hopkins fell in love with the promise of genetics. Confidently believing science to be a pure meritocracy, she embarked on a career.

In 1999, Hopkins, now a noted molecular geneticist and cancer researcher at MIT, divorced and childless, found herself underpaid and denied the credit and resources given to men of lesser rank. Galvanized by the flagrant favoritism, Hopkins led a group of sixteen women on the faculty in a campaign that prompted MIT to make the historic admission that it had long discriminated against its female scientists. The sixteen women were a formidable group: their work has advanced our understanding of everything from cancer to geology, from fossil fuels to the inner workings of the human brain. And their work to highlight what they called “21st-century discrimination”—a subtle, stubborn, often unconscious bias—set off a national reckoning with the pervasive sexism in science.

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who broke the story, The Exceptions chronicles groundbreaking science and a history-making fight for equal opportunity. It is the “excellent and infuriating” (The New York Times) story of how this group of determined, brilliant women used the power of the collective and the tools of science to inspire ongoing radical change. And it offers an intimate look at the passion that drives discovery, and a rare glimpse into the competitive, hierarchical world of elite science—and the women who dared to challenge it.

About the Author


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.

Praise For…


“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

The Exceptions is a perfect marriage of compelling material and formidable journalist."—Frank Bruni, author of The Beauty of Dusk

“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 
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982131838
ISBN-10: 1982131837
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: February 28th, 2023
Pages: 432
Language: English