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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the…
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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women… (edition 2016)

by Margot Lee Shetterly (Author)

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2,5651403,930 (3.92)215
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)
Member:mfigroid
Title:Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Authors:Margot Lee Shetterly (Author)
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2016), Edition: Media Tie In, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Non-Fiction, Read in 2020

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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

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Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
I saw the movie twice in two days. It got me curious about what really happened, so I checked the ebook out from the library. I could not help but be indignant at the injustices done to the colored women programmers in the NASA computation wing. I admired their pluck, courage, persistence, and also their brilliance.

There were some scenes that just screamed "fiction." But the movie was good enough to get me interested in reading the book to find out what what was "fact" and what were the liberties taken by the producers. As expected, some things in the movie are not supported by documentation from the book. Having read the book, I understand that they were trying to get across complex concepts within the time constraint of a video production. I forgive them.

The book is about racial bias, sexual bias, segregation, and discrimination based on those two categories. The book uses activities at Langley to illustrate those problem. It shows not only how pervasive segregation and the attendant discrimination was, but the difficulty of fighting it.

The intense effort to be the first country to the moon created a social backlash that derailed our plans to get to Mars.

Several people are showcased in multiple chapters.

Chapter 3-7: Dorothy Vaughan
Chapter 8: Katherine Goble
Chapter 10: Mary Winston Jackson
Chapter 12-13: Katherine Goble
Chapter 14: Dorothy Vaughan
Chapter 15: Christine Mann
Chapter 18: Ends with a note that Katherine Goble is now Katherine G. Johnson
Chapter 19: Mary Jackson and the soapbox derby
Chapter 21: Katherine Johnson & John Glenn

There is an intersting afterword that describes some things that didn't get into the book because of a length constraint. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
Wow. Just wow. I saw this movie two weeks ago and was blown away by it. Reading the book just gave me even more details about the African American women who came out as human computers (I had no idea that was where the word computers came from, they computed so were seen as computers) and helped shaped the United States space program.

Shetterly has historian disease (yeah I use to suffer from this as well, historians unite!) so the flow was off a few times. And there are details sprinkled in sometimes that I honestly didn't think were adding anything to what central point I think she was trying to get across. That said, I was blown away by the time I got to the end of this book. I am embarrassed that I had no clue about any of these women (Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan) that Shetterly follows in "Hidden Figures".

Shetterly does a great job in her prologue in setting up the town of Hampton, Virginia, where she grew up as a kid. Can you imagine a town full of African American scientists, teachers, doctors, mathematicians? I honestly was astonished reading about how Shetterly grew up. It sounds like paradise to me. This introduction is a great set-up to what caused Shetterly to find out more about Katherine Johnson, one of the central figures in "Hidden Figures." From there Shetterly goes back to the U.S. during World War II where many agencies were looking for anyone that had any mathematician skills to apply. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) needed people and due to a lot of legislation that was being passed at the time, it was a good time for many African Americans to apply since they could be assured more money than what they would receive teaching.

Shetterly then moves between the years of NACA eventually becoming NASA, the space race with the Russians, and the African American women who were there for it all.

This book primarily focuses on Dorothy Vaughan and jumps back and forth between her being the central figure and adding in details about Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson. I honestly would have loved to read one book for each of these women. Shetterly does a great job of showing the growing Civil Rights issues that were going on that seemed to not affect NASA personnel much. If you could do your job that is all anyone cared about. There were still little things like colored tables to eat at in the cafeteria, separate bathrooms, etc. but I loved how most of the women Shetterly mentions ignored it or just blatantly took down signs. There were also issues with some of these women having to take a step down in order to go further once they were all at the end of their promotion opportunities they could have at certain jobs. Do not get me started talking about the GS-schedule. I can be here all day.

The writing at times had me sitting up and saying amen.

“As a child, however, I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.

“But before a computer became an inanimate object, and before Mission Control landed in Houston; before Sputnik changed the course of history, and before the NACA became NASA; before the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka established that separate was in fact not equal, and before the poetry of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech rang out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Langley’s West Computers were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology, carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black, black mathematicians who were also female.”

“Through its inability to solve its racial problems, the United States handed the Soviet Union one of the most effective propaganda weapons in their arsenal. Newly independent countries around the world, eager for alliances that would support their emerging identities and set them on their path to long-term prosperity, were confronted with a version of the same question black Americans had asked during World War II. Why would a black or brown nation stake its future on America's model of democracy when within its own borders the United States enforced discrimination and savagery against people who looked just like them?”

“She trained the girls in her Girl Scout troop to believe that they could be anything, and she went to lengths to prevent negative stereotypes of their race from shaping their internal views of themselves and other Negroes. It was difficult enough to rise above the silent reminders of Colored signs on the bathroom doors and cafeteria tables. But to be confronted with the prejudice so blatantly, there in that temple to intellectual excellence and rational thought, by something so mundane, so ridiculous, so universal as having to go to the bathroom...In the moment when the white women laughed at her, Mary had been demoted from professional mathematician to a second-class human being, reminded that she was a black girl whose piss wasn't good enough for the white pot.”

As I said earlier, the flow was not that great. I think that Shetterly had a tough time deciding what to include and what to take out. I can see how she tried to make some of the pieces fit so you can see how each of these women were important to the space race and how they worked together. Also Shetterly includes details about how African American men in the military at the time were still treated horribly by white Americans who saw them in uniform. Reading this right before Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend definitely made me appreciate all of these men and women who went first in order to make it easier for those in my generation. We are not there yet, not by a long shot, but when I read about what went on back in the 1940s-1970s I don't know if I could have been that brave or strong to deal with it.

The setting of Hampton, Virginia during this time sounds great. It really does sound like the nerdiest place alive and I loved it.

For me, this book was deeply personal. I honestly didn't even think I could be anything more than a wife and mother. I was raised to believe that was the best job out there. College was something that the white kids I went to school with aspired to. Just because I was one of the smartest kids in school did not figure in at all to it. My parents flat out did not have the money to send me to college. My older brother luckily got an athletic scholarship to go to college, and even he did not graduate on time due to him not watching to make sure he met all of his requirements to graduate. However, lucky for me, my parents via financial aid and scholarships that my church told my mother about made sure I got into school. And luckily for me when I was about to graduate from college, I was given the opportunity to interview for graduate school. Due to my GRE schools and undergraduate grades and other activities I managed to go to graduate school for free. Even now at the age of 36 I realize that even though I loved to read, was seen as one of the smartest kids in school, my life could have so easily went another way if I didn't have someone stepping up along the way to make sure that I got the same opportunity that many people take for granted.

Thank you to all three of these women and other women that the book mentions for doing the impossible.

This is definitely going to become one of my permanent books on my bookshelf at home. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
4
  2blackcats | Jun 16, 2020 |
4
  kristi_test_02 | Jun 16, 2020 |
4
  kristi_test_02 | Jun 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 139 (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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