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Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race Paperback – 9 February 2017
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A TIME Magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Book of 2016
‘Clearly fueled by pride and admiration, a tender account of genuine transcendence and camaraderie.
The story warmly conveys the dignity and refinements of these women’ New York Times Book Review
‘Much as Tom Wolfe did in ‘The Right Stuff’, Shetterly moves gracefully between the women’s lives and the broader sweep of history … Shetterly blends impressive research with an enormous amount of heart in telling these stories … Genuinely inspiring book’ Boston Globe
‘A fascinating and important document about the hitherto unknown impact of NASA’s endeavours’ BBC Sky at Night magazine
‘Shetterly’s highly recommended work offers up a crucial history that had previously and unforgivably been lost. We’d do well to put this book into the hands of young women who have long since been told that there’s no room for them at the scientific table’ Library Journal
‘Inspiring and enlightening’ Kirkus
‘Exploring the intimate relationships among blackness, womanhood, and 20th-century American technological development, Shetterly crafts a narrative that is crucial to understanding subsequent movements for civil rights’ Publishers Weekly
‘This an is incredibly powerful and complex story, and Shetterly has it down cold. The breadth of her well-documented research is immense, and her narrative compels on every level. The timing of this revelatory book could not be better, and book clubs will adore it’ Booklist
‘Meticulous … the depth and detail that are the book’s strength make it an effective, fact-based rudder with which would-be scientists and their allies can stabilise their flights of fancy’ Seattle Times
About the Author
Margot Lee Shetterly is an independent scholar and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation award recipient, currently at work on The Human Computer Project, a digital archive of the stories of NASA’s female Human Computers. She is one of the founders of Inside Mexico Magazine, an English-language magazine for Mexico’s expat population, and in her former lives worked as an Internet executive and an investment banker. She splits her time between Hampton, Virginia and Valle de Bravo, Mexico.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.
I appreciate the author's bringing these women to public attention. I liked how their story is presented in the context of the prevailing racial attitudes of their time.
The book is not a biography of a few women, as in the movie. It is a study in culture.
The bulk of the book covers the massive need for computers--mathematicians--during WWII, offering women and people of color unique job opportunities working for NACA. There were at least 50 black women who worked at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory between 1943 and 1980. President Roosevelt signed an executive order to desegregate the defense industry, creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee.
The African American women hired as computers were not only qualified, some had more education than their white counterparts. Their job opportunities and salary level had been limited, and landing a job at Langley allowed brilliant minds work equal to their ability. The women were dedicated, their high standards apparent in their dress and demeanor as well as in the excellence of their work. The high quality of their work brought respect from the engineers. At the same time, Virginia's segregation laws restricted the women to where they could live and what bathroom they could use.
The later part of the book covers the change of the NACA to NASA and the Space Race. I found it more compelling to read. The technology was changing to computers and the mathematicians had to retool their skills to keep up with the times.
My favorite story was about John Glenn's 1962 flight and how Glenn didn't trust computers to get him safely back to Earth; he said, "Get the girl to check the numbers. If she says the number are good, I'm ready to go." He trusted Kathryn Johnson, the human computer.