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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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3,2891683,129 (3.92)231
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."--… (more)
  1. 10
    Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy (themulhern)
    themulhern: Similar stories about overlooked and discriminated against mathematicians and computers.
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» See also 231 mentions

English (168)  Spanish (1)  All languages (169)
Showing 1-5 of 168 (next | show all)
I like how the author explained the methods the government for mathematical calculation from WWII through the age of NASA. It is mainly a book about black women who did those calculations and wrote the code, but this framework puts their lives into perspective. Some names go by fast but the work of each generation builds on the next. It's good to know there have always been women coders. ( )
  nab6215 | Jan 18, 2022 |
This was an amazing story which I believe everybody should read. These women were heroes! The only reason I'm giving it four stars instead of five is because there were a few passages that were a little dry. But overall, I loved the book. ( )
  marymatus | Jan 12, 2022 |
I read this book because it was the July pick for my library's book club. It was nice to take a break from my mountain of fiction books. The book was nothing like the movie. In fact, what was portrayed in the movie wasn't mentioned in the book until the last 100 pages or so. This is one of those rare instances where I would recommend watching the movie before reading the book because if you like the movie, the book will provide more information. The book is really a prologue to the movie. Also, the movie was obviously created for entertainment purposes. Therefore, it was a dramatization of the actual events written about in the book. The reason this book gets 3.5 stars versus 4 stars for me is that the author seemed to jump around a bit in order to capture the stories of various characters. This was sometimes confusing and I would find myself losing interest between the skipping around and also the long paragraphs full of space/science jargon. Otherwise, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject or who enjoyed the movie. It was well worth the read. ( )
  kathrynwithak7 | Nov 24, 2021 |
I don't feel like the rating is fair since my expectations were influenced by the film. 4 stars maybe?

Shetterly writes a fantastic historical overview of the times in which Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan lived. It is accurate, peruses the sources and makes connections all over the board from Martin Luther King Jr. to Langston Hughes. Presented as such, of course, the movie would be dull. And of course, I kept telling myself, the movie had to condense time to tell the entire story. Kudos to the person who thought this would make a good film. Because it did.

My one problem is that there were some times that I felt like I was expected to know things I didn't. Like some of those people at NASA or Williams, or Christine. I had no idea who these people were but it felt like they were introduced and then dropped. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
After watching the film of Hidden Figures I just had to read the book. I found the book to be thoroughly fascinating and well written. It was very readable and more like narrative fiction than like straight non-fiction which made for an enjoyable and quick read. After finishing it I had a great desire to learn more about women in the science fields. ( )
  KateKat11 | Sep 24, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 168 (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.
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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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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."--

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