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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
For all its innovation, NASA in the 1940s wasn’t an especially progressive place. Female mathematicians in general, and black women in particular, were segregated from their male colleagues—but that isolation didn’t limit their contributions. In Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly gives a group of remarkable African-American women their due. Her biography moves like a thriller, sweeping from World War II and the Civil Rights movement to the Apollo moon missions. Along the way, Shetterly never loses sight of the brilliant, confident quartet of women at the heart of the story. The movie adaptation of this rousing book has become a smash hit.
Shetterly, founder of the Human Computer Project, passionately brings to light the important and little-known story of the black women mathematicians hired to work as computers at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Va., part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NASA's precursor). The first women NACA brought on took advantage of a WWII opportunity to work in a segregated section of Langley, doing the calculations necessary to support the projects of white male engineers. Shetterly writes of these women as core contributors to American success in the midst of a cultural "collision between race, gender, science, and war," teasing out how the personal and professional are intimately related. She celebrates the skills of mathematicians such as Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Hoover, whose brilliant work eventually earned them slow advancement but never equal footing. Shetterly collects much of her material directly from those who were there, using personal anecdotes to illuminate the larger forces at play. Exploring the intimate relationships among blackness, womanhood, and 20th-century American technological development, Shetterly crafts a narrative that is crucial to understanding subsequent movements for civil rights. A star-studded feature film based on Shetterly's book is due out in late 2016.
This is the book not the movie!
Unless you read at a higher level then this book might be a hard read for you. It is written by a very intelligent woman. For an intelligent audience. I genuinely enjoyed this book. But I hope people that get it don't think they are buying a novel about these women's lives. It is about their world. Really. The entire world that touches, talks to, brushes by or simply happens near them. I liken it to the many Alan Turing books I've read. It's a ton of info and if your not paying attention you won't realize you read something about the people themselves. Again. I loved the book. I love these complicated books. Everyone else that tells me they read it because they saw me reading it though, also have told me they couldn't finish it because it just wasn't what they were expecting.
A very difficult read
I have a very high reading level and I struggled with the book. The essence of the story is wonderful once you get past the labyrinth of people never heard of again. The women in this book are incredible inspirations. What they accomplished in the face of so much adversity is inspiring. Very glad that I stuck with the book even if this was the longest it has ever taken me to read a book (vertigo didn't help).
Amazing book about the untold stories of these wonderful and smart women.