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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the…

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women…

by Margot Lee Shetterly

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The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Margot Lee Shetterly

MY RATING ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️▫️
PUBLISHER William Morrow
PUBLISHED December 6, 2016

A true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA, who helped with some of America's greatest achievements. The group of dedicated female geniuses were known as "human computers" and use only pencils, and adding machines. Their calculations help launch rockets and put men in space.

The careers of Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden are chronicled over three decades. They were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II. They faced challenges, endured segregation, and experienced discrimination at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton Virginia. Despite this, their skilłs were instrumental in the success of the space program.

The retelling of the lives and accomplishments of Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden are intricately woven in this compelling book. I listened to the audiobook and found that while sometimes it was a little difficult to follow, it was well worth the effort.

I really enjoyed reading about the strength, fortitude, and determination of these four women. They were a major part of the NASA team. Despite their initial segregation to the west side of the Langley campus, the "computers" did their job both stoically and admirably. They let their work speak for itself, their calculations were impeccable. Their reputation for quality work was eventually noticed.

The author, Margaret Lee Shetterly was born in Hampton Virginia. Her father was a research scientist at NASA. She grew up knowing many of the NASA Africian-American families. Who better to research and write a biography of these amazing women. Shetterly sold the movie rights for Hidden Figures while still working on the book. I have not seen the movie yet, but definitely will.

This is a great book. I encourage anyone who loves to read about strong intelligent women, who have broken barriers and made major accomplishments read this book. Women with an interest in STEM should take particular note. Within these pages are the female role models for all who come behind them. The message is clear, women can be just as good as men in math and science.

Hidden Figures was a 2016 Goodreads Choice Award for History & Biography. ( )
  LisaSHarvey | Aug 19, 2017 |
The film felt a lot more cohesive, this was interesting but quite bitty, one minute I was following one life and the next another and it just didn't flow for me. It was enjoyable but somehow unsatisfying, the lives were fascinating, what they had to endure and go through to get where they were was amazing. The book could also have done with some illustrations, I do better with factual books where I can visualise the people involved. Still it was interesting and kept me reading well past my bedtime. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Aug 10, 2017 |
This book is about the four African American women who helped launch our nation into space.
The ladies got their start focusing on air flight when NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics). They were doing the math to help the airplanes fly.

When the Russians, or the Soviet Union, launched a satellite into space, the Americans wanted to launch something into space as well. The women helped with their knowledge of flight and amazing math skills. Eventually, the ladies proofread the math from the electronic computers and a human was launched to the moon.

I think this book is a great book. It teaches you how hard it was for black people. Black people were not allowed to use the same bathrooms, places to eat, and much more. These women were amazingly smart but were overlooked because of their skin color.My favorite part of the book was when they managed to launch a human into space. I recommend this book because the women are super smart and capable of almost anything to do with math.

Book review by Emmelyn R. (4th) ( )
  MackintoshL | Jul 28, 2017 |
This is a well-documented look at African American women hired as computer mathematicians at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. World War II and the lack of available men, allowed these women to break away from stereotypical jobs for women to work on the forefront of the space race. Their skills in math and physics allowed the women to work side by side with engineers. The segregated bathrooms, office, and even “colored computer” addresses just one aspect of cultural norms and politics the women faced. The science and math describes the development of computers and aerodynamics and put their contributions into context. This historical overview provides a superficial look at different personalities and relationships. Like many academic works, it is a little slow reading in places. The heavy scientific discussion takes precedent over human emotions. Overall, it is an interesting look at a government agency between the 1940s and 1980s. There are parts readers will like and parts readers may skip over. ( )
  bemislibrary | Jul 23, 2017 |
What an amazing story. The book was very detailed and while it didn't exactly drag at places, it was slow sometimes. The movie was excellent and did a good job of combining facts and took few liberties with actual scenarios. (In my opinion)

An accuracy portrayed in the movie, from the book, was Katherine Johnson’s great ability and intellect with mathematics. Since blacks did not attend school after 8th grade unless their parents could afford to send them, Katherine’s father made sure she could continue her education. He went to great lengths and expense to be sure all his children could attend school.

If you’ve seen the movie you may remember that scene where Katherine is called to the blackboard to explain a problem. Doug and I just watched as she solved this crazy equation and then said, “It’s all pretty straight forward from here.” We just looked at each other, as the older students in the classroom did after she said this. Impressive intellect. Katherine graduated high school at the age of 14. Just wow.

In the movie it appeared there were a handful of people doing the work, the actual computations, and it was cliquish. The reality was there were hundreds of people working together and mostly in harmony. It wouldn’t be realistic to include so many in the movie version.

The segregation issue at NASA wasn’t as intense as the movie depicted, at least according to Katherine Johnson. She stated, “Everybody there was doing research, you had a mission and you worked on it, and it was important to you to do your job...and play bridge at lunch. I didn't feel any segregation. I knew it was there, but I didn't feel it."

In real life she was treated as peer even though state laws regarding the use of separate bathrooms and buses was real.

The women of all races were called Computers. Black “computers” were put in the segregated west section of the Langley campus. These women calculated trajectories and results of wind tunnel tests. This was before electronic computers but even after their arrival, Johnson calculated by hand and verified the results of their electronic counterparts.

Overall the movie was very interesting and it will make you mad sometimes, the way the black computers were treated. I would recommend this movie and book. ( )
  SquirrelHead | Jul 20, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
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. 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.”

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Margot Lee Shetterlyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lyons, ElsieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Meara, JoyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my parents, Margaret G. Lee and Robert B. Lee III, and to all of the women at the NACA and NASA who offered their shoulders to stand on.
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"Mrs. Land worked as a computer out at Langley," my father said, taking a right turn out of the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Hampton, Virginia.
The astronauts, by background and by nature, resisted the computers and their ghostly intellects. In a test flight, a pilot staked his reputation and his life on his ability to exercise total, direct, and constant control over the plane. A tiny error of judgment or a spec of delay in deciding on a course of action might mean the difference between safety and calamity. In a plane, at least, it was the pilot’s call; the “fly-by-wire” setup of the Mercury missions, here the craft and its controls were tethered via radio communications to the whirring electronic computers on the ground, pushed the hands-on astronauts out of their comfort zone. Every engineer and mathematician has a story of double-checking the machines’ data only to find errors. What if the computer lost power or seized up and stopped working during the flight? That too was something that happened often enough to give the entire team pause. The human computers crunching all of those numbers—now that the astronauts understood. The women mathematicians dominated there mechanical planes. The numbers went into the machines one at a time, came out one at a time, and were stored on a piece of paper for anyone to see. Most importantly, the figures flowed in and out of the mind of a real person, someone who could be reasoned with, questioned, challenged, looked in the eye if necessary. The process of arriving at a final result was tried and true, and completely transparent. Spaceship-flying computers might be the future, but it didn’t mean John Glenn had to trust them. He did, however, trust the brainy fellas who controlled the computers. And the brainy fellas who controlled the computers trusted their computer, Katherine Johnson. It was as simple as eighth-grade math: by the transitive property of equality, therefore John Glenn trusted Katherine Johnson. The message got through to John Mayer or Ted Skopinski, who relayed it to Al Hamer or Alton Mayo, who delivered it to the person it was intended for. 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.
The results were what mattered, she told classrooms of students. Math was either right or wrong, and if you got it right, it didn’t matter what color you were.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006236359X, Hardcover)

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.


(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 24 May 2016 18:06:49 -0400)

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