Hidden Figures: the American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race
“Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” written by Margot Lee Shetterly was the book I had chosen for my first book review. This book illustrates a remarkable story about Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. These unbelievably black women had to face impossible obstacles as they went to work as “calculators” at NASA but at the time was called, “National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics” also known as NACA. Despite the amount of social and political challenges they have faced at the heights of Jim Crow, these women became an essential project that put the first man on the moon. Hidden Figures tells a story about four amazing women whose contribution to science led to NASA’s greatest successes. Not only does Margot Lee highlight an astonishing account of intelligent, hard-working, and devoted African-American women who made crucial contributions to the Space Race but they also changed history.
Firstly, I thought this book was researched by Author Margot Lee because she had provided us with many details of the civil rights movement, school segregation, and the aeronautic industry. These women had to face many difficult obstacles and discrimination in their workplace as they continued to live in a country where being a white male meant the best chances of fair pay and advancement. However, these women’s brilliant minds did not go unnoticed and they were able to get the respect from their coworkers that they deeply deserved. Their willpower soon led them to opportunities that they thought were unimaginable. Yet, after everything they all went through to get to where they were, they still had to face the ugly reality of a “colored only” bathroom in the workplace.
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Although this may be true, women were not taken seriously as men when it came to this profession. NASA began hiring women during World War II as female computers. These women did the work of mathematicians but were considered less of a professional in order to be paid less. Each specific character in this story worked hard in their career but was not acknowledged for their hard work. In 1943, there was a push in hiring qualified black women because the demand could not be satisfied with white employees only. Many people of skin color were given an opportunity to show off their skills in the real world.
In addition, I enjoyed how this book focused a lot on the individual stories for each of the women. I was very inspired by the sacrifices, determination, and intelligence each of these ladies had to offer. The book incorporated few stories of history that moved from WWII to the Cold War and then the Space Race. The book also included the Civil Rights Movement and the push to end school segregation. These “human computer” women were forced to work on the west side of the Langley campus until the 60s when integration occurred. It is very disappointing to imagine all the brilliant minds that never realized their potentials because of influences like race, gender, and income.
Hidden Figures includes a lot of feminism and breaking down race barriers which I enjoyed. Reading more into this book, I really respect the message that Margot Lee was writing about. Even more, I was on board to calling attention to something that most Americans were very ignorant about women’s roles and black people’s roles in NASA during the Space Race and WWII. The simple facts that this news was shocking to a lot of people means this story is important and should be shared. The story was soon made into a movie which was even better because a lot of people would not read the book. Black history in America, as Shetterly points out, is extremely hidden. Stories like this one can inspire young females to follow their dreams no matter what society may say we can or cannot do.
Despite the good messages in this book, I do have my opinions and reviews. While reading the book, I thought that the book was not well written. Shetterly was unable to distinguish characters from one another. As I was reading each chapter, I could not tell the difference at times between Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary. What they did, what their roles were, it was all blurred together due to Shetterly’s incapability to develop characters or personalities for any of them. She often also switches from person to person, and from time period to time period in the same chapter which made it very confusing. It also is hard to differentiate the three women focused on here. “Katherine listened intently as her brother-in-law described the work, her thumb cradling her chin, her index finger extended along her cheek, the signal that she was listening carefully” (118). She was reporting on a conversation she was not present at. Secondly, she is hearing about it from someone who is relating something that happened 60 years ago.
This book could be a learning experience and give an insight to the scenes’ making of the space program. It could also prove that every person’s role and contribution is important and makes a difference. Best of all, it’s a true story. This was such an extraordinary and important story to tell, but the writing was a bit dry and repetitive.
In Conclusion, this book was highly informative, though I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was more interested in science, space and aerodynamics. My understanding for these topics is lacking, which is the reason why I often skimmed some overly technical paragraphs.
However, the life stories this book depicts are awe inspiring and moving, and this is what I’m here for. Strong and educated women of every race and heritage, taking a stand, breaking down stereotypes, making a career, proving that they have the brains it takes to work in one of the most prestigious scientific facilities in the world (and everywhere else as well). All of that, while so many hindrances were put in their ways, because of their gender, because of their race. Because of prejudice, ignorance and hate. This book shows – and reminds us – that there are people who take opportunities and master them with grace, people who hold doors open for the less fortunate and give them a chance to shine, people who value bravery and kindness more than anything else. This is what made this book worth reading.