Saturday, June 9, 2018

*Review* Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Genre: Non-Fiction/History
Published: September 6, 2016
Pages: 373

The #1 New York Times bestseller
The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture 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.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story, and that may have been my first mistake. There was nothing inherently wrong with the audiobook; the narrator had a pleasant and yet engaging voice, but I personally remember things better when I read them, and with the way this book was setup, I had a difficult time keeping the different women straight in my mind, and that may not have been the case had I been reading the book myself. For one thing, it would have been easier to flip back to a previous section in the book to refresh my memory about each woman's accomplishments/role. As it was, all of the women kind of blended together in my mind. I suspect listening to the book again or watching the movie may help to clear up that confusion for me though. 

Even with my character confusion, I found this book absolutely fascinating. I barely knew that women scientists and mathematicians worked with NASA during the space race to begin with, let alone that there were so many talented African-American women contributing so much to NASA's accomplishments during a time when the south still had Jim Crow laws in full force. The hurdles all of these women had to jump to get to where they were certainly would have stopped me from achieving what they achieved. I'm decent at math, but I'm in awe of these women's skills. And I never would have even known they existed without this book. 

While the women's achievements were so inspiring, I also enjoyed the personal background information we got about them. I particularly liked the little acts of rebellion that took place in the cafeteria. 

Overall I give Hidden Figures 4.287 stars. - Katie 

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