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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

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 130 (next | show all)
I love reading books about less commonly known people who contributed to the overall success of America. These amazing women, the unsung heroes of NASA, are just ordinary women doing extraordinary jobs. Let's back-track a bit. The Emancipation Proclamation filled the lives of all slaves and freedmen with hope for the future. The Civil War had ended less than 100 years earlier. Women got the vote in 1919. Yet despite these achievements, it's incredibly obvious that not enough has changed since then. Black people were still treated as inferior. It's sad that 1940's America still hadn't learned how to overcome the barriers of race AND gender. Americans were focused on winning the war, not quite focused on civil rights yet, but you know it's brewing. It's coming. It's a silent war that's about to erupt like a volcano.

I'm disappointed with the style of the book. I was hoping for dialogue, a lot of it! I wanted to visualize these strong women, their plights, and their friendships, and their effectiveness as a group in the war effort. This book reads like a dry documentary. If I wanted a documentary, I'd turn on the television so I can listen to the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman.

I read the prologue and the first six chapters (roughly 60 pages). I feel let down. I hope the movie is better than the book. ( )
  caslater83 | Jun 2, 2019 |
Excerpted from my blog:

I picked up this book at Powell's Portland airport store. Let me tell you, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a beautifully written book about the collision of race, gender, and science in the USA from World War II to the late 1960s.

Hidden Figures tells the stories of a number of African American women who found themselves working on engineering projects during World War II and through the 1960s space race. Oh, I should add that they were doing all of this in Virginia too.

As someone who has spent her career working to diversify science, technology, engineering and mathematics, these type of stories are not new to me, even if the characters are. There are so many hidden figures in the annals of the history of science we could write books for a generation. No, what is most compelling about Hidden Figures is how effortlessly Shetterly connects the dots between what is occurring in the government labs during the space race and what is happening in our society writ large.

Time and time again Shetterly balances the progress happening in the research labs with how stuck Virginia and the rest of the country were in terms of race and gender relations.

In relation to African Americans fighting in World War II, she writes:

The system that kept the black race at the bottom of American society was do deeply rooted in the nation's history that it was impervious to the country's ideals of equality.

In relation to using education as a force for social advancement:

The Negro's ladder to the American dream was missing rungs, with even the most outwardly successful blacks worries that at any moment the forces of discrimination would lay waste to their economic security.

To read my full review, please visit Viva la Feminista.
  roniweb | May 30, 2019 |
Wow -this book is not just about the Black women of NACA/NASA who did crucial work, and who paved the way both for other women and for other Colored People to work at the agency, and to have "very very good" jobs. This book also puts into context and makes you feel the lives of these women as they interacted with the wider world, and as the wider world interacted (and still interacts) with us, as Black Americans, as Americans, and as members of the entire human race -and even more, as co-hosts and dwellers on Planet Earth.
February 25th, 12018 HE
( )
  FourFreedoms | May 17, 2019 |
Excellent! A history worth telling.

The saying "the book is better than the movie" was never more true. I enjoyed the movie (it's why I sought out the book), but it is a shadow of the story the book tells. Compressing the lives and accomplishments of these women into two hours inevitably squeezes out so much - and there is SO MUCH more to their lives and what they did. It's a great history - of these women, of the space program and more. ( )
  mrklingon | Apr 22, 2019 |
Vacation reading: Book 3 Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. Somehow when I bought this kindle book I got the young readers edition so I’m not entirely sure how it’s different than the original book. I did see the movie last year and that prompted me to read the book, which was good but maybe because I had the YR edition it wasn’t a whole lot better than the movie. I love the story and I am fascinated at this aspect of history. I remember the first time I heard a story a couple years ago about the African-American women who worked at NASA and helped with the space program I couldn’t believe it wasn’t something we had learned in school. During a time when black and white kids couldn’t drink from the same water fountain, highly educated black women were working in the space program. (And before that in the Langley Aeronautics program.) As someone who has been math-challenged my whole life I find it amazing that anyone can do those calculations because it’s a foreign concept to my brain, but that women and especially women of color, worked in these high-stakes programs is inspiring and incredible. I think the adult version of the book might have been a deeper read than this one, it was still a good read about an important group of people in our history that don’t get the recognition they deserve. 4/5 stars ⭐️ ( )
  justjoshinreads | Mar 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 130 (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 (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shetterly, Margot Leeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lyons, ElsieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, RobinNarratorsecondary 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)

"Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the civil rights movement, and the space race, [this book] 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"--Back cover.… (more)

» see all 9 descriptions

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