REVIEW: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly


SYNOPSIS: 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 shots 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 as they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellects to change their own lives - and their country's future.


GENRE: Non-Fiction, History


RATING: ★★☆☆☆ / 2 dry stars


REVIEW: Hidden Figures was chosen by my book club as one of our latest reads. I was really excited to read it before I watched the film (as most avid bibliophiles try to do). Unfortunately, I didn't love the book, although I think it will translate better to film after Hollywood got their hands on the raw material and injected it with some much needed vigor.


Okay, so my sentiments seem to be the same as many other reviews that I found. It's funny how I go looking for other reviews only when I didn't like a book but I also didn't hate it, per se. And most of the reviews started the same way I felt, "I really wanted to love Hidden Figures, but...". Because it's true! I really wanted to love this book. The information is fascinating and amazing. That these women have gone unrecognized is beyond unfortunate, so for that reason alone, you can't hate this book....but it's just so dry. Mind-numbingly dry. It read more like a textbook than an engaging novel.


For all the information that was included in the book I never felt like I connected with anyone in it. There was a severe lack of emotion and the women seemed to get lost at times amid all the other historical information. There was also a lack of connection between the different women within the pages. I would be baffled at times as to who was who and how old and in comparison to their fellows. I also think when spanning such a long amount of time, that more frequent yearly date updates where needed to help keep the stories straight.


I know that all the technical and mathematical jargon wasn't appreciated by some other readers but I actually greatly enjoyed these passages. I felt that it gave much needed depth to these incredible women's work. In a way it focused the book back on them and gave the reader a gauge of just how smart they were/are and a look at the complexities and progress that they accomplished.


Overall, I was glad that I read the book, but it was a bit painful to read. I had hoped for so much more.


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