File Size: 5001 KB
Print Length: 373 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; Reprint edition (September 6, 2016)
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
I was an officer in the Air Force for 20 years, working in the missile and space industry. I also lived in Hampton, VA, for 6 years growing up. I feel like the author has given me back a piece of my history that I never knew was missing. I've always known that there are women who went before, upon whose shoulders I stand, but it is incredible to add a deeper understanding of what that meant and to know their names.
Thank you, Margot Lee Shetterly, for persevering and doing the work to bring this history to light in a way that makes it accessible.,My comments are somewhat bias since Katherine Johnson is my aunt. I have seen the movie twice and read the book. My preference is the book mostly because of the additional information provided about Aunt Katherine. Many movie goers who only see the movie will miss out on a number of opportunities to see more realistically Aunt Katherine's nature, attitudes, and life's perspectives on work, family, and race. The movie is done very well and I commend all those involved in its production including the talented stars. It is a case of getting one slice of pie when you could get two slices. I suggest you eat WELL! ATBroady,Hidden Figures has garnered much attention for being the heretofore forgotten story of the African-American women who helped build NASA (or to be more exact, the NASA field center at Langley). The media has boiled the tale of these women down to the oft-used cliche "heroes"; Shetterley's narrative digs beyond that.
Sure, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, et al are amazing, inspiring, and strong, but their own modesty over their roles in NACA/NASA history is telling: like many black pioneers of the Jim Crow era, they didn't step up for the attention or accolades. They stepped up to be "the first" in order to pave the way for those who would come behind them.
Shetterley deftly reveals these cross-generational ties at Langley, as well as how for African-Americans, the professional is often the personal when it came to representation and community. The portions of the book that were the most fascinating to me were those pertaining to the links forged by the black community in the Southern Virginia area, and how they intersected with employment and residency in Hampton as the 20th century progressed.
Shetterley's prose shined the best on the minutia of the women's lives, but the parts about NACA/NASA were just as interesting--and Shetterley's explanations of the mathematics and aeronautics is masterful. It was never pedantic, yet never overly simplified. As I reached the end, I was disappointed there weren't more pages, but also even hungrier for more stories about the intersection of race, gender, and science!
Get this book! It is an excellent companion to Nathalia Holt's Rise of the Rocket Girls and Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club, for a comparison of the different experiences of women in the Space Race.,I admit I was completely ignorant of the story presented in HIDDEN FIGURES. I had no idea that black women played such a key role in our space program. It's great to finally acknowledge those who contributed so much, but yet received so little credit for their work.
HIDDEN FIGURES tells the story of four determined black women, who overcame numerous obstacles, and worked in the space program at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now known as "Langley Research Center.") It was at this Virginia lab where Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden were able to employ their skills--and really make a difference. It was "behind the scenes" work back then--but now we know the real picture.
To give the reader an idea of how difficult it was for a woman--much less an African-American woman--to actually become a mathematician, the author notes these statistics: "In the 1930s, just over a hundred women worked as professional mathematicians." The likelihood of a black woman actually becoming a mathematician working on the space program was about zero: "Employers openly discriminated against Irish and Jewish women with math degrees. The odds of a black woman encountering work in the field hovered near zero."
Oddly, the Soviet Union actively encouraged women in engineering. The schools in the Soviet Union were “loaded with women” including many of their engineering grads. Alas--that was not the case in the United States, which "struggled to find a place for women and Negroes in its science workplace, and in society at large."
At the time, women generally got little credit for their work. It was unusual for a woman to even be acknowledged as co-author of a report: "The work of most of the women, like that of the computing machines they used, was anonymous. Even a woman who had worked closely with an engineer on the content of a research report was rarely rewarded by seeing her name alongside his on the final publication."
At the lab, life for black women was not quite as bad as outside, where strict rules were followed, with blacks always separate from whites. At Langley, the "boundaries were fuzzier. Blacks were ghettoed into separate bathrooms, but they had also been given an unprecedented entrée into the professional world."
At Langley, the work was serious; lives were at stake: "Sending a man into space was a damn tall order, but it was that part about returning him safely to Earth that kept Katherine Johnson and the rest of the space pilgrims awake at night."
Recall that the U.S. did not yet have a track record of successful space launches. In fact, many launches were complete failures: "Two of the Atlas’s last five sallies had ended in failure. One of them had surged into the sky, erupting into spectacular fireballs with the capsule still attached. That wasn’t exactly a confidence builder for the man preparing to ride it into orbit..."
All in all, I found HIDDEN FIGURES to be a fascinating, as well as an informative read. The author paints a compelling picture, illustrating how difficult it was for these four women to accomplish what they did. Thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly for revealing this inspiring story about these unique women. These women all deserve a special place in the record books for such a remarkable, historical achievement.
Advance Review Copy courtesy of Edelweiss.,I only read this because it was the choice of my book group, but I'm really glad that I did. It's well written and a really good read. I learned a lot about the space program and what women have had to deal with in the work force. But this book dealt particularly well with how black society dealt with segregation and all the attendant hardships and how it fought against them. Although I thought I knew about segregation this author really opened my eyes to its day to day reality. This is one of the most important books I've read in a long time.
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