Book Review: Hidden Figures

I’m a huge proponent of reading books before watching corresponding movies. Unfortunately in this case, the movie came before the book.

Tiny tangent before I actually review the book, watching movies first is the worst because humans are able to hold images in their minds much easier than words (for the most part). Since I watched the film first, my brain was constantly trying to reconcile scenes from the movie with what was being described in the book. The film was good, but the book was better. Obviously they didn’t always match, which was very distracting as a reader. I kept trying to “tell” my mind what happened instead of letting it unfold on the page, stunting my imagination in the process. Rant over – time to review.

Written in 2016 by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures chronicles the professional journeys of brilliant women who shattered the glass ceiling with their genius mathematical capabilities and their determination to continue moving forward toward equality in spite of social barriers.

“Scientific progress in the twentieth century had been relatively linear; social progress, on the other hand, did not always move in a straight line, as the descent from the hopeful years after the Civil War into the despairing circumstances of the Jim Crow laws proved. But since World War II, one brick after another had been pried from the walls of segregation.”

Hidden Figures, p. 140

The book was very thorough in painting a picture of society in Virginia in the 1950s and 60s. While in the West Campus of Langley, they were “hidden figures,” Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden certainly weren’t wall flowers. They and many other black computers (people who computed complex mathematical equations) made significant contributions to the aeronautical industry. They were respected by their colleagues (male and female, black and white), yet didn’t received equal opportunities for promotion or recognition for much of their careers.

The detailed account was great for context, but a little heavy for a distinct plot line. Shetterley did a wonderful job being inclusive with names, titles, and specific work that the women did, but I occasionally felt bogged down by all of the side descriptions of correlating events and overlapping timelines. Overall, the book (and the movie adaptation) are incredible (and necessary) contributions to filling in some major gaps of American history. These women should be forever recognized and remembered for their triumphs of spirit and intellect.

This books is for you if you like: Hidden Figures (the movie), NASA, Apollo Thirteen, the National Air and Space Museum, Star Wars and/or Star Trek.

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