Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

by Margot Lee Shetterly

Paperback, 2016




William Morrow Paperbacks (2016), Edition: Media Tie In, 368 pages


Biography & Autobiography. History. African American Nonfiction. Nonfiction. HTML: 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..… (more)


½ (696 ratings; 3.9)

Media reviews

Ms. Shetterly happened upon the idea for the book six years ago, when she and her husband, Aran Shetterly, then living in Mexico, were visiting her parents here. The couple and Ms. Shetterly’s father were driving around in his minivan when he mentioned, very casually, that one of Ms.
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Shetterly’s former Sunday school teachers had worked as a mathematician at NASA, and that another woman she knew calculated rocket trajectories for famous astronauts. Ms. Shetterly remembers her husband perking up and asking why he had never heard this tale before. “I knew women who worked at NASA as mathematicians and engineers,” Ms. Shetterly said, “but it took someone from the outside saying, ‘Wait a minute’ for me to see the story there.”
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User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
I was happy to receive Hidden Figures as an ER book, and it easily lived up to my hopes. First time author Margot Lee Shetterly has done an admirable job of depicting the black female mathematicians who became employed at NASA (originally NACA) as human "computers" in the 1940s, and their
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successors to the present day. We get insights not only into the African American experience in the USA beginning in WWII, but also the space program as it developed, including the sometimes fevered emotions underlying it.

Shetterly says in the Acknowledgments at the end that, "As the child of a Hampton University English professor and a NASA research scientist, it was probably inevitable that I would eventually write a book about scientists." In the prologue she remembers her father's "engineering colleagues with their rumpled style and distracted manner. . . . That so many of them were African American, many of them my grandmother's age, struck me as simply the natural order of things: growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown."

WWII caused aeronautic engineering to move front and center in the USA as a critical part of the war effort. Just as previously unemployed or underemployed women were needed in many industries at that time, NASA needed reliable mathematicians who could execute complicated mathematical assignments, and could make sure their computations were correct. Small errors could have big effects. Eventually black women from good engineering programs at black schools were targeted. That they succeeded in an era in which "just 2 per cent of all black women earned college degrees" is impressive. Of course, once they started, certain adjustments had to be made (some may wish to read these details first in the book, so I've covered some of this with the "spoiler" indication):

"in 1943, America existed in the urgent present. Responding to the needs of the here and now, Butler took the next step, *SPOILER* making a note to add another item to Sherwood's seemingly endless requisition list: a metal bathroom sign bearing the words COLORED GIRLS." Of course. The young black women were segregated into their own section of NASA, West Computing, and were relegated to their own lunch table, which had a stenciled cardboard sign stating: COLORED COMPUTERS. One of the black computers tossed the sign in the garbage every time it showed up, and finally the person posting the sign gave up. But the black female mathematicians continued to sit at that table.. *END OF SPOILER*

One of the featured women is pioneer Dorothy Vaughan.

"Education topped her list of ideals; it was the surest hedge against a world that would require more of her children than white children, and attempt to give them less in return. The Negro's ladder to the American dream was missing rungs, with even the most outwardly successful blacks worried that in a moment the forces of discrimination could lay waste to their economic security."

"Separate but equal" was the shamefully accepted law and social divider. Dorothy rises to lead West Computing, but it is not until the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education in the mid-50s that school integration begins to happen and segregation begins to break down. Shetterly adeptly interweaves the social environment of the times through the lives of these women and their families. When West Computing finally is dispersed and its members scattered throughout NASA, it was,

"a bittersweet moment for Dorothy Vaughan. It had taken her eight years to reach the seat at the front of the office. For seven years she ruled the most unlikely of realms: a room full of black female mathematicians doing research at the world's most prestigious aeronautical laoratory."

As full scale integration is beginning, the female mathematicians also find themselves urgently involved in a space race. It is kicked off by Russia orbiting Sputnik over the USA (causing both fear and offended national pride), and President Kennedy promising to land on the moon by decade's end - a seemingly impossible task. "As fantastical as America's space ambitions may have seemed, sending a man into space was starting to feel like a straightforward task compared to putting black and white students together in the same Virginia classrooms." One VA school system actually closes its public schools for five years to avoid integration!

Eventually, indefatigable Katherine Johnson will insist her way into the engineering inner circles, and become critical to the space missions. "Sending a man into space was a damn tall order, but it was the part about returning him safely to Earth that kept Katherine Johnson and the rest of the space pilgrims awake at night." John Glenn insists that she be the one to "check the numbers" before he'll go up. "I loved every single day of it", she says. "There wasn't one day when I didn't wake up excited to go to work." Her work in celestial navigation was essential to the space program's success, including her work product in connection with the moon landing and return. She ends up receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other awards.

What a remarkable story Shetterley has given us. Among many other things, we also get to see the huge social importance of the tv show Star Trek, with its futuristic multi-cultural crew and black officer Nyota Uhuru, played by Nichelle Nichols. You'll want to read about Nichols' encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and its effect on her career.

This is a fascinating book, and a good resource both for a little known part of African American history in the U.S., and a behind-the-scenes look at the space program. Four and a half stars.
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LibraryThing member bragan
During World War II, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' facility in Langley, Virginia, which did research into airplane design, hired a large corps of "computers": women, most of them with mathematical educations they'd had very limited opportunity to use, whose job it was to solve
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the complex equations the engineers relied on for their work. Some of these women went on to do engineering work of their own and, once NACA became NASA, made significant contributions towards putting human beings on the moon. Many of these women were black.

Margot Lee Shetterley weaves the individual stories of some of these black women with the broader stories of Langley, the Civil Rights movement, and the realities of life in the Jim Crow south, sometimes moving back and forth between a general historical overview and an almost novelistic description of particular people on particular days, complete with details like the color of the autumn leaves. I think how well this approach works varies; it occurred to me more than once that I might have preferred less detached, linear narrative about these women's lives, and more transparent accounts of what the people Shetterley spoke to had to say in their interviews as they looked back on the past. But even if I found the execution somewhat imperfect, the story itself is a fascinating bit of untold history, at once inspiring (because these women were pretty amazing, despite all their disadvantages), and sobering (because it's an unambiguous reminder of the legacy of racial and sexual inequality we have not yet entirely left behind).

Rating: Despite its flaws, I think I'm going to have to give this one a 4/5. If the subject matter sounds interesting to you, I do recommend it.
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LibraryThing member bell7
In World War II, when there were so many jobs available that women were accepted into jobs they may never have received otherwise, a group of brilliant black women were hired as "computers" at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. These
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women, including Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Goble, worked to run the numbers for engineering feats that allowed the airplane industry (military and civilian) really take off. Then, NACA became NASA and the space race was on.

I really, really wanted to like this book about heretofore "hidden figures" - the women themselves and the numbers they ran, which were no guarantee of authorship in technical reports. Though the subtitle mentions the space race, the story of the West Computers - the segregated unit of black women "computers" for NACA - runs from 1946 through 1969. Primarily following the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Goble and Mary Jackson, Shetterly includes incidences of many more women in the workforce, black and white, which made it hard to follow with all the names and moving back and forth in time when she gave their educational background, early work history and marriages. Other side stories, some more tangential than others, included everything from women at NACA to the challenges of integration in Viriginia schools to Mary Jackson's son's soap box derby. If this reader is any guide, the math and computing details are way over the head of the layperson. Shetterly does not hold back on mathematics, complex vocabulary and sentences, which made for really slow reading. Though it's an important story and researched, the meticulously detailed approach, number of people involved (I really wished for a list of them!), and number of side stories detracted from my reading experience.
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LibraryThing member rybie2
Deeply and soundly researched and documented, both professionally and personally, this is the first account of the largely unknown mathematicians (that happened to be black women) who made significant contributions to the early U.S. space program, even as far back as the 1930s.

This is not only a
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work of historical record in terms of technology, it's also a record of the culture at the time. For just one example, consider this: due to wartime manpower depletion, manpower was needed to fill the vacancies, which meant not only were women (gasp!) considered, but even nonwhite women; it's the latter who made or corroborated on the mathematical calculations possible for spaceflight. Remember the time frame before you judge the following critically, all right? For their contributions, they earned the job title of "colored computer*." *Read again preceding sentence.

With scholarly citations, resources, notes, and bibliography, a work such as this could easily (and commonly) provide a lackluster but informative reading. However, this is not the case because author Margot Lee Shetterly's writing tone is engaging and anything but dry.

This review is based upon the copy of Hidden Figures, earned from LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, August 2016, in exchange for this published unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member pmartin462
As someone that taught history and studied history in college and in grad school I am always amazed with books like this and sometimes annoyed. And, I do not mean annoyed about the book nor the author. The book is a very good read. What I get annoyed with is that historians write thousands of books
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on the Civil War, or WWII, and some historians write about the same topic over and over again. But, they cannot take that time to write a book as important as this one. Some of the most interesting history books that I have read in the past have been written by non-historians on topics that historians have never or rarely written on. And, many of them have been on African American history. These women were (and some still are) very intelligent and gifted mathematicians whose contribution to the war effort (WWII) and the space program has gone unrecognized for far too long.
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LibraryThing member bibliovermis
A well-written history of the black women behind the visible men of NASA, their lives and contributions to American progress, and a clear case for the ways that structural racism and segregation has held that progress back.
LibraryThing member applemcg
The only distraction for me was the "relational" nature of the character introduction. Seeing the movie in the middle of the reading probably scalped half a point from my rating. However seeing the movie restored my focus on the main characters: Kathy Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary
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Jackson. As an engineer, I was attracted to Mary's progress from computer to engineer and the barriers she had to break down. Allowing a personal note, the book also amplified something we learned in the late '70s: when computers became programmers of computers, engineers' first thought was computing is an engineering tool. My wife, at the UCCS and the Engineering Dept Head were the first to bring a computer scientist to the department. Dorothy's figuring out, on her own, to pick up FORTRAN and share it with West shows a lesson, an insight we need more of today. Katherine's expertise served her, and John Glenn well. I suspect her analytic geometry skill was an easier explain then the necessary skill of spherical trigonometry. (calculating a splash-down point to the last decimal in latitude, longitude). the book did a better job with that than the movie. Since i've made much reference to the movie, here's a map between the two. The movie picks up at the midpoint of the book, missing everything up to the choice of the Mercury astronauts. Hence, a number of milestones, advances made more on the initiative of the women are folded into the time-line of the movie, well after they occurred: Mary Jackson's admission to night school at Hampton High, Kathy's liberation from the "colored women restroom". The movie gives a comic scene of her scampering back and forth from color-absent Space group to the friendlier West Computing. The book offers a more subtle explanation: "since the rest room in the Space group said 'womens rest room' i assumed i wasn't excluded". And Dorothy's repeated petition for supervisor status are at least 4, 5 years later, not that it matters. The book doesn't disappoint. It's speaking right at me, since I'd have been one of the people who could have taken advantage of the computers' work. My disappointment is not having known of their work 45, 50 years ago.
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LibraryThing member obtusata
Very interesting, but a little dry at times. Though, it's well worth the read as it's very important to understand the trials of women and black people. It's also a very good historical overview of NACA/NASA.

I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in math, aeronautics, race relations,
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LibraryThing member acargile
Currently a movie, this novel is realistic fiction, detailing the lives of black women who were the “computers” for the NACA and for NASA when the name changed.

I read the adult version, but I am ordering the young reader’s edition. This novel talks about these amazing black women who began
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working for the NACA in the 1940s. I see it as a novel more about women than race. In this time period, women had starting working to help out with the war effort (World War II). When the war ended, the men returned and the women were told to go back home and do their “duties.” Some women liked working and were very good at their jobs. These women of this novel were computers, which was deemed a “woman’s job,” like teaching or nursing. Being a computer truly meant being a mathematician. These women were college graduates, and several had advanced degrees. They were as smart as any college-educated man--in fact, they were probably more educated.

When the Soviets started “winning” the space race, the United States stepped up their efforts to advance in the space race and “win.” These women were instrumental. The men were the engineers and were given complete freedom to explore all things science in order to learn and advance. The women were on their teams--although still considered as “computers.” They were just as important as any of the engineers and wanted to be considered engineers, which was a pay raise and more prestige. Afterall, they had the education and the knowledge.

These women spent decades working at NACA, later known as NASA. Because of them, the United States put a man on the moon before the 1960s ended. That they were black is significant because they had a few more hurdles added to them. For example, they were in a separate room from the white women doing the same work. Also, they had to sit at a separate table in the cafeteria. One woman puts the sign in her purse daily. Eventually the sign never reappears. They didn’t mind sitting together and they didn’t mind their table; they just didn’t want a sign telling them they were different.

I had a hard time keeping characters straight because of the linear story, but I found the information very interesting. It’s a very revealing part of the United States history.
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LibraryThing member slug9000
I saw the movie before I read the book, and I am honestly not sure whether that was a good or bad thing. I loved the movie, and I loved the book, but they are very different.

Generally, the book is a very fast-paced and interesting read about the black women who worked at the Langley Air Force Base
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in Hampton, Virginia, and their many and varied contributions to the field of aeronautical and astronautical research. It is part biography, part history of NASA, part history of segregation, part history of the civil rights movement, part history of the Virginia peninsula, and part history of women's rights. It is absolutely fascinating.

That being said, the book is very different from the movie, so don't go into it expecting them to be the same. The movie is deeply touching, but it is actually fairly inaccurate, and it has been pretty aggressively whitewashed (see re: the Kevin Costner character). I think it is good to both see the movie and read the book, because one of the critical differences, and the difference that I think is missed entirely by the movie (to its great detriment) is the way in which issues of segregation were actually tackled at Langley. The movie makes it appear that enlightened white men of power were responsible for Langley's integration, when in fact the integration of Langley was almost entirely borne organically and of necessity. The book does a good job of explaining this, whereas that aspect of the movie is almost entirely fictionalized. I thought the movie took away some of the women's victories in this area (Katherine Johnson, for example, never went to the "colored" bathroom. She just used the regular, unlabeled bathroom, and no one ever told her not to), but the book gives the women more credit for their small yet trailblazing acts of defiance.

One other note: the book actually covers quite a bit of complex scientific detail, but it is entirely readable to the layperson.

I highly, highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member dougcornelius
The story is a compelling look at American culture. We were working to put men on the moon while there were still separate bathrooms for blacks and whites in the NASA offices.

By "we", I mean the black women at the center of the stories in the book. They were all brilliant mathematicians. While
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they were not marching in Selma, they were pushing back against the institutional chauvinism and racism at NASA and predecessors.

For those hoping to make America great again, this book is a clear example that it was not greater for people with dark skin.

I was disappointed in the audiobook version of the book. The reading was bland. At times it sounded robotic. The other problem was keeping track of the women. Ms. Shetterly tells the stories of these brilliant women in overlapping stories that are not always chronological. There was nothing in the audio version to help you track which woman was at the center that particular story. I don't know if the written version does a better job.
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LibraryThing member mysterymax
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a detailed, entertaining and illuminating slice of history. Shetterly focuses on the lives of individual African-American women who were hired to work as ‘computers’ at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Langley, VA, during WWII.

The book manages to
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beautifully paint the larger picture of America during WWII when critical labor shortages provided an opportunity for women mathematicians to overcome racial and sexual discrimination. These women were the key to the US achieving aeronautical superiority in WWII. They worked on planes like the B-29. After the war they were in the forefront on faster-than-sound aircraft work and eventually they worked at NASA.

Through the lives and work of these women you watch America’s civil rights movement take place, spy fears develop during the Cold War and the Rosenberg trial and you take part in the changes of women in the workplace. You can feel the emotions as people watched Russia dominate the skies with the launch of Sputnik.

These women, and the work they did, went largely unknown by the public. But it was known by those whose lives depended upon the women’s output. Before John Glenn left Earth he wanted a human ‘computer’ to check the machine computer’s calculations, “Get the girl to check the numbers,” said the astronaut. “If she says the numbers are good,” he told them, “I’m ready to go.” It was Katherine Johnson who made the most important contribution to the flight as she meticulously checked the numbers generated by a mechanical computer.

Shetterly has also explained the science well. She talks of airfoils, wind tunnels and apogees with clarity and ease. The book is large in scope – from WWII to the present day, from fighter planes and bombers to space flight, from human computers to mechanical ones.

Shetterly has also provided documentation for this remarkable story, some 46 pages of Notes, and 10 pages of bibliography sources. Another 18 pages make up a thorough index. The only thing missing are photographs. They would have made a book already superb so much richer.
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LibraryThing member barbharris1
A great book on the black women "computers" that worked for NACA and then NASA. This book tells of the unique work done by these women at a time of racial turmoil. Highlights the contribution they made in getting astronauts in to space.
LibraryThing member Bookish59
Shetterly introduces us to the hidden black women behind the many successes of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and after 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The secret is now out: these women worked as ‘computers’ or mathematicians to
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calculate and test formulas to help manufacture the 50,000 fighter planes per year FDR asks for during WWII as well as improving the planes’ speed, performance, and durability. Years later they collaborate on space ships, space travel, getting to the moon, and consider getting to Mars!

This narrative is even more incredible considering the ongoing visceral racism of the South, and the challenge for blacks to get good educations. The black women mathematicians at Virginia’s Langley Research Center were fortunate that their parents were positive role models, working hard for their families and insisting their children get educated. To reach middle class status blacks had to find jobs as teachers, postal employees or small business owners, and even working these jobs earned much less than their white counterparts. The Langley women were curious about the world, science, and motivated, smart and determined to do the best they could for their families, and many were committed to community service.

Randolph Asa Philip, the head of the Black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first mostly black union, insisted that blacks obtain newly available jobs opened by WWII. This results in Executive Order #8802 desegregating defense industry and Executive Order #9346 creating Fair Employment Practices Committee to monitor economic inclusion. FDR opened the door of opportunity to black job seekers! This doesn’t mean that social mores changed overnight.

The black women ‘computers’ worked and ate lunch separately from the white men and women, and unbelievably even had to use ‘black only’ bathrooms. But their hard work, intelligence and commitment to Langley’s mission showed the white, male engineers their professionalism, strong capabilities and potential to provide the help needed. It would take many years before any women white or black would be allowed to work directly with the engineers on critical projects, become engineers, or have reports of their theories and results published under their own names. But some did eventually become equal partners to a number of far-sighted engineers and/or engineering teams.

I am glad I read this book. I learned the important role the NAACP and key individuals played in improving the politics, education and job opportunity and people’s lives, how determination and kindness can act as game changers, how being a smart ‘squeaky wheel’ can help deserving people get promotions, salary raises or new jobs. I especially loved reading how they worked together to help each other, their families and communities, and also developed and propelled the next generation of women into getting jobs at Langley and other labs in science, technology, and math. These wonderfully strong women were a positive force moving science and the US forward.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
When I was young--around eleven or twelve--I could not understand how people could enjoy Nat King Cole's music and not want to be his neighbor. Then I grew up and was aghast anew at how hard it was to integrate the armed services. And now, of course, we are living with the "new" Jim Crow, and the
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astounding numbers of black men who are "lawfully" murdered by frightened cops. All of this to say that Shetterly has written an incredibly well-researched book dealing with intelligent WOMEN, and black women, at that, who helped compute the mathematics it took to take us out of this world.

I have read books about our space program, and other than to comment that we went to the moon without computers. How is it they managed never to speak of the women mathematicians who were mobilized? And where were the shamefaced (well, they should have been shamefaced) men when American racism caused these women to fade back into the laundries from they were hired?

My hope is that this book is assigned to middle and high school students frequently, along with its companion volume written for younger students. We need to understand what we, as a nation, are missing when we don't utilize the strengths, all the strengths, of our population. Five stars.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
This is the is the book behind the new movie and illuminates a part of science history I'd never heard of. There's not much emotional involvement going on here buts lots of new information and a different look at segregation in the US and even a little explanation of physics and flight.
LibraryThing member dele2451
An important piece of American history told well. Would have benefited significantly from the addition of historical photos of NACA/NASA/the women outside of work and/or segregation in Virginia during that period.
LibraryThing member BooksCooksLooks
It always amazes me when I come upon stories such as these – women basically lost to history. I had no idea about this cadre of women who worked for the nascent NASA. They were actually called computers; but in essence they were early engineers. They did this vital, valuable work and yet the
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credit fell on the men. How about that? The book singles out four women to profile – this is not historical fiction by the way – but it is the story of so many more women.

Even though this is non-fiction the book reads like a novel. Ms. Shatterly introduces her heroines and the reader learns about these amazing women in the context of their time. Despite living in horribly restrictive times – as women and as women of color they break so many barriers. They still deal with being all of the other issues women are still dealing with today – motherhood, discrimination, men claiming their work. But this all happened at a time when blacks were still being relegated to separate bathrooms, water fountains, etc. In fact one of the issues was finding a building for them to work in so they wouldn’t “mix” with the white workers. It does make for some uncomfortable reading at times. As it should.

I was utterly fascinated by the stories of the times, of the women, of the work they did and of how Ms. Shetterly wove it all together. I didn’t know about the movie when I chose to review the book but now I admit I’m looking forward to seeing it. It will add fictional elements of course but I’m sure it will be fascination. These women deserve to be celebrated and it is long overdue.
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LibraryThing member marysneedle
This is an amazing story. I had no idea there were women professionals and in the sciences no less during this time period. They truly were pioneers of so many things and not only great role models for the young women back in the day for today as well. I am really looking forward to the movie
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LibraryThing member franoscar
I hate to say this but I was pretty disappointed in this book. I don't need to say more.
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
It was becoming more common for women to enter science and engineering by the time I started university in 1971 (although still considered unusual) but in the 1940s most women inclined that way thought they would end up teaching. Certainly black women who excelled in mathematics were lucky to even
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get to college and then finding a job would be even more difficult. Remember that segregation was still a fact of life in the southern US and black teachers would only find jobs in black schools. The word that the government was hiring women for mathematics jobs during the war in Virginia seemed like a godsend. Even if the jobs were only short term they were still better than the poor paying teaching jobs. So that's how a group of black women ended up at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to NASA. They were paid less than white employees and had to use separate bathrooms and lunch rooms but the jobs were considered good. As time went on and the abilities of the women were recognized they obtained permanent professional status jobs. They also steadily advanced the campaign for equal rights for people of all races and for women. I haven't seen the movie based on this book but I can't believe it could cover everything the book covers. I listened to this book which is probably not quite the best medium since I had some difficulty in keeping track of the people and what they did in NACA, later NASA.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
A little-known story of a group of African-American women who worked as "computers" (albeit manual ones) for the aeronautics industry, beginning with the shortage of workers during World War II.
The subject is very interesting, but I found the book somewhat disappointing. Although there was much
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talk about what they did and their amazing accomplishments, the personalities of the women didn't come through for me, and there was something about the writing style that put me off. At the end, when I read that Shatterly was writing the book simultaneously with the screenplay, I realized what it was. I felt like I was reading a movie. One of those cases where I expect the movie is better than the book!
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LibraryThing member Sheila1957
Not what I expected but I enjoyed it. I thought it would only be the story of the women but it was also a cultural/societal history of the times of segregation and integration. I learned a lot. I admire these women. They were geniuses. I could not have done what they did. The story was well written
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although slow in some places. This is well worth the read.
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LibraryThing member mcelhra
Hidden Figures is the story of the amazing and largely forgotten black female mathematicians, or computers, that worked for NACA (The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and when it later became NASA. There, they faced both discrimination and sexism. They worked in the West Computing
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office, which was far from the East Computing building where the white computers worked. There was a separate table for the black people in the cafeteria and separate bathrooms as well. Both black and white women were passed over promotions, with the jobs being given to white men with less education and less experience.

However, the biggest struggle for the women came long before they started working at NACA. Trying to get an education in Virginia, one of the most racist states in America during that time, was extremely difficult. The schools for black people were run down and most didn’t even offer advanced courses. The governor refused to comply with Brown vs. The Board of Education, going so far as to chain the doors of Virginia schools that attempted to integrate.

I wouldn’t call this book a biography of the computers. The main focus is on their work lives at NASA, there isn’t much personal information about their private lives. There was too much technical math and space information in it for me – I thought it made the book move very slowly, especially the first few chapters. However, I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate having this information included.Even if not everyone reads the book, the publicity behind it and the movie are still bringing awareness to these women’s accomplishments. That said, Hidden Figures is an important story that needs to be told and I recommend reading it.
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LibraryThing member KamGeb
I was disappointed in this book. The subject matter seemed so interesting, but the book itself was dull. It felt like reading a textbook. The author seemed to want to include all the facts she discovered even if it made the book less readable. Also the writing itself made the reading difficult like
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the sentence. "The contradiction ripped Negros asunder both individually and as a people."

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I think this might be one case where the movie is better than the book.
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Physical description

368 p.; 5.31 inches


0062363603 / 9780062363602
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