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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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Ms. Shetterly grew up near Newport News, and just assumed everyone knew about the West Computers; what the black women who did the math for NASA were called, both when it was called NACA AND when it was called NASA.

Hidden Figures is the story of how we fought the space race, and also the hidden story of race relations in the U.S. Government. It both tells stories that we don't know, and alludes to the story of WHY we don't know them. I liked how Shetterly talks about Dorothy Vaughn getting caught up with the bus boycotting story and Shetterly mentions Claudette Colvin, even if "mainstream" American History books don't.

I'm very glad that this book was made into a movie. I'm sad that that's the only reason I read it. ( )
  minxcr1964 | May 22, 2017 |
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 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. ( )
  gypsysmom | May 18, 2017 |
I found this book fascinating in its examination of the world of human computers, mathematics, and engineering with the focus on black women and their contributions. I especially admired the way in which the women who were the focus of this book pursued their goals with grace in the face of the ugliness of racism and segregation. They surely paved the way for greater opportunities for women and especially minority women just by virtue of their intelligence and passion. ( )
  tjsjohanna | May 17, 2017 |
A fantastic book about the contribution of African American mathematicians to America's success in WWII and the space race. The women profiled in here led fascinating lives, and until now largely unappreciated ones. I would have loved a little more detail on the actual work they were doing as a way of better appreciating their achievements, but the science and engineering involved is very much glossed over. Still, I highly recommend this for a more complete view of the diversity of the individuals who worked together to bring America to space. ( )
  duchessjlh | May 5, 2017 |
I learned a lot from this book and really enjoyed the movie, ( )
  maddiesullivan223 | Apr 28, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (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 (3 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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