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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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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 |
I wanted to love this book. I love the story and the movie and the inspiration. I loved learning about this group of invisible women and their impact on history. But when I read a book of history, I want the author to use historical methods, and this author was a little too liberal with her opinions about people's thoughts and motivations. If that kind of thing doesn't bother you, you'll probably love this book as much as I wanted to and you should spread the word. ( )
  kaelirenee | Feb 10, 2017 |
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly is a book not only about strong women but more. It is a book about society, struggles, overcoming prejudices, spirit, strong will, and brains. This is a history lesson for all of us not to repeat mistakes. This book follows a handful of smart and tough women as they work their way through a society rigged against them in every way until they get a small break and they let their brilliance shine. They deserved more credit then but society still wasn't ready and is it still? I wonder watching the news...I am glad they finally got some kind of recognition for their service and tenacity. You go girls! ( )
  MontzaleeW | Feb 6, 2017 |
The story is a compelling look at American culture. We were working to put men on the moon while there were still separate bathrooms for blacks and whites in the NASA offices.

By "we", I mean the black women at the center of the stories in the book. They were all brilliant mathematicians. While they were not marching in Selma, they were pushing back against the institutional chauvinism and racism at NASA and predecessors.

For those hoping to make America great again, this book is a clear example that it was not greater for people with dark skin.

I was disappointed in the audiobook version of the book. The reading was bland. At times it sounded robotic. The other problem was keeping track of the women. Ms. Shetterly tells the stories of these brilliant women in overlapping stories that are not always chronological. There was nothing in the audio version to help you track which woman was at the center that particular story. I don't know if the written version does a better job. ( )
1 vote dougcornelius | Feb 3, 2017 |
I saw the movie before I read the book, and I am honestly not sure whether that was a good or bad thing. I loved the movie, and I loved the book, but they are very different.

Generally, the book is a very fast-paced and interesting read about the black women who worked at the Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, and their many and varied contributions to the field of aeronautical and astronautical research. It is part biography, part history of NASA, part history of segregation, part history of the civil rights movement, part history of the Virginia peninsula, and part history of women's rights. It is absolutely fascinating.

That being said, the book is very different from the movie, so don't go into it expecting them to be the same. The movie is deeply touching, but it is actually fairly inaccurate, and it has been pretty aggressively whitewashed (see re: the Kevin Costner character). I think it is good to both see the movie and read the book, because one of the critical differences, and the difference that I think is missed entirely by the movie (to its great detriment) is the way in which issues of segregation were actually tackled at Langley. The movie makes it appear that enlightened white men of power were responsible for Langley's integration, when in fact the integration of Langley was almost entirely borne organically and of necessity. The book does a good job of explaining this, whereas that aspect of the movie is almost entirely fictionalized. I thought the movie took away some of the women's victories in this area (Katherine Johnson, for example, never went to the "colored" bathroom. She just used the regular, unlabeled bathroom, and no one ever told her not to), but the book gives the women more credit for their small yet trailblazing acts of defiance.

One other note: the book actually covers quite a bit of complex scientific detail, but it is entirely readable to the layperson.

I highly, highly recommend this book. ( )
1 vote slug9000 | Feb 2, 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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"I've been been buoyed by the enthusiasm of Devid Bearinger and Jeanne Siler at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities since the day I walked into their office unannounced, in the middle of an early spring blizzard n 2014. Because of their support, the Human Computer Project, which sprang out of my research for the book, will be able to pick up the baton from Hidden Figures by creating a comprehensive database of all the female mathematicians who worked at the NACA and NASA during the agency's golden age." From the Acknowledgments.
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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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