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

Margot Lee Shetterly
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. 


Reviewed: 2019-05-17
Wow -this book is not just about the Black women of NACA/NASA who did crucial work, and who paved the way both for other women and for other Colored People to work at the agency, and to have "very very good" jobs. This book also puts into context and makes you feel the lives of these women as they interacted with the wider world, and as the wider world interacted (and still interacts) with us, as Black Americans, as Americans, and as members of the entire human race -and even more, as co-hosts and dwellers on Planet Earth.

February 25th, 12018 HE

Reviewed: 2018-10-18

Hurray for Hidden Figures! This book is exactly what I needed to read in a time when I was just starting to go down the road of "Wait, the history that I learned in high school isn't the whole story? Women and people of color were less likely to be written about? They *did things*? What?" It's the untold story of the African American women that served as NASA's calculators, and I am just so excited that this had come to light, and that I get to know about things like this, now.

That being said, the book is incredibly well-researched, and leans more on the research than storytelling or character work, which is obviously a valid choice for a nonfiction book, but makes for slightly less enjoyable reading, at least on my part. I imagine that the movie would fill in the storytelling and character work that I crave, so I better go watch that ASAP. For all that the book it a little dry, I enjoyed it, and I think that anyone willing to give this a shot will be glad that they waded through a little bit of research to get the knowledge that this book holds.

Reviewed: 2018-01-06
Loved it.
Reviewed: 2017-03-03


I liked the acknowledgement that this is mundane but also extraordinary. It struck a good balance in tone and placing this within historical context.

Overall: Katniss would dig it.

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