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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 book on which Hidden Figures the film is based on was even better. Without the need to dramatise, shuffle various women's experiences around to create one film's worth of stuff, the book can let the actual lives and achievements of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson speak for themselves, and they do so, eloquently. The real lives were more compelling than the dramatised versions in the film. ( )
  queen_ypolita | Mar 25, 2017 |
It's a history book for people who didn't pay any attention to African-American history. The story of the computers is interwoven w the current events of the era. For people who know nothing of the 1950's and 60's this is an important book. For everyone else it's a good story of people who were behind the scenes of the space race. ( )
  kallai7 | Mar 23, 2017 |
I was disappointed in this book. The subject matter seemed so interesting, but the book itself was dull. It felt like reading a textbook. The author seemed to want to include all the facts she discovered even if it made the book less readable. Also the writing itself made the reading difficult like the sentence. "The contradiction ripped Negros asunder both individually and as a people."

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I think this might be one case where the movie is better than the book. ( )
  KamGeb | Mar 3, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Hidden Figures is the story of the amazing and largely forgotten black female mathematicians, or computers, that worked for NACA (The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and when it later became NASA. There, they faced both discrimination and sexism. They worked in the West Computing office, which was far from the East Computing building where the white computers worked. There was a separate table for the black people in the cafeteria and separate bathrooms as well. Both black and white women were passed over promotions, with the jobs being given to white men with less education and less experience.

However, the biggest struggle for the women came long before they started working at NACA. Trying to get an education in Virginia, one of the most racist states in America during that time, was extremely difficult. The schools for black people were run down and most didn’t even offer advanced courses. The governor refused to comply with Brown vs. The Board of Education, going so far as to chain the doors of Virginia schools that attempted to integrate.

I wouldn’t call this book a biography of the computers. The main focus is on their work lives at NASA, there isn’t much personal information about their private lives. There was too much technical math and space information in it for me – I thought it made the book move very slowly, especially the first few chapters. However, I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate having this information included.Even if not everyone reads the book, the publicity behind it and the movie are still bringing awareness to these women’s accomplishments. That said, Hidden Figures is an important story that needs to be told and I recommend reading it. ( )
  mcelhra | Feb 28, 2017 |
Not what I expected but I enjoyed it. I thought it would only be the story of the women but it was also a cultural/societal history of the times of segregation and integration. I learned a lot. I admire these women. They were geniuses. I could not have done what they did. The story was well written although slow in some places. This is well worth the read. ( )
  Sheila1957 | Feb 20, 2017 |
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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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