The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA at the leading edge of the feminist and civil rights movement, whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space—a powerful, revelatory contribution that is as essential to our understanding of race, discrimination, and achievement in modern America as Between the World and Me and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The basis for the smash Academy Award-nominated film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner. Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.
Hidden Figures is an excellent example of a well written book. I actually listened to the book and would recommend that, because the reader did a very nice job. I did not know if I wanted to read this book since I had already watched the movie. The movie was really good and I highly recommend it. Also I did not want to read a book that bashed all “white” people as racists and anti-black because that it not true. But after reading this quote in the Margot Lee Shetterly’s prologue to her book: ” What I wanted was for them to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as a part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic,”
I wanted to keep reading this book.
America’s past cannot be forgotten but it is the past and it cannot be dwelt upon. Once I read that the author was not going to play that card, I pushed forward into her interesting book. The book does not only talk about one woman but many “hidden figures.”
I originally tried to read the book but when I could not find time to read, I went to my library’s e-audio book collection and rented it. It was a lot easier for me to listen to the book because there was a lot of history and scientific terms and facts.
So, why read this book? Well because it is interesting, well written, and it gave credit to the “hidden figures” behind the space race, no matter the color of their skin color. They were Americans and they played their part. Katherine Goble Johnson, one of the more famous hidden figures, became a celebrity after word got out about her part in the John Glenn flight and she simply replied “Well, I’m just doing my job.”
Shetterly wrote in her epilogue: “By recognizing the full complement of extraordinary ordinary women who have contributed to the success of NASA, we can change our understanding of their abilities from the exception to the rule. Their goal wasn’t to stand out because of their differences; it was to fit in because of their talent. Like the men they worked for, and the men they sent hurtling off into the atmosphere, they were just doing their jobs. I think Katherine would appreciate that.”
This book is worth reading (or listening to) and I highly recommend it.
Title: The Hidden Figures
Author and Website: Margot Lee Shetterly
Reading Resolution 12: Read an award-winning book.
This review is written in my own words and is my honest opinion.