Title- Hidden Figures
Author- Margot Lee Shetterly
Published- December 2016
Genre- Non-fiction, History, Science
Length- 349 pages
Synopsis (Goodreads)- 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 shots 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 as they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellects to change their own lives – and their country’s future.
Review- I think how much you enjoy this book will depend on how many sittings you read it in. I think most people would struggle to read it in one sitting, but three or four would be ideal.
The book covers parts of history that most people know nothing about, despite the entire world knowing about the moon landing. The story itself is interesting, and eye opening in terms of the extent of segregation, and particularly the behaviour of the Virginia school system. Personally I wouldn’t have dealt with things as well as these women! There is a lot of discrimination where I work and it makes me incredibly angry but these women just got on with it and managed to change things!
There is a lot of focus on education amongst the women and I love that, I value education above most things. A lot of this book covers the maths involved, it doesn’t give you equations of course, but there is a lot of chat about calculations, wind tunnels etc. A lot of it reads like a high school history textbook. If you are expecting something like The Martian, in terms of the level/amount of science you will be disappointed, there is a lot more technical description in this book. Interspersed with the maths are some more personal stories, those are great, there just aren’t enough of them.
There are a lot of different people in this book, and if you aren’t reading it in one sitting it can be difficult to remember who everyone is. As a non-fiction book it’s obviously unavoidable, whoever was there, was there, but in a fiction book this number of people would be ridiculous.
Overall I did enjoy this book but at times it was a little dry. It would have been much better if more personal elements were included.