Hidden Figures

By Margot Lee Shetterly,

Book cover of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Book description

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Golden Globe-winner Taraji P. Henson and Academy Award-winners Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA's African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in…

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Why read it?

8 authors picked Hidden Figures as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

As a schoolchild I was enthralled by descriptions of America’s race to the Moon to beat the Soviet Union. But until Margot Lee Shetterly’s groundbreaking book, few knew of the Black female mathematicians who made it possible.

Hidden Figures is a sweeping work of American history that covers three decades and honors hundreds of women who worked as “computers”—back when computers were people, not machines—for NASA and its predecessor, NACA.

At its heart are three women, Katharine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, who were skilled mathematicians and engineers. The book unflinchingly confronts America’s racism and sexism but remains a story…

For anyone who loved the movie adaptation of the same name, this book is a must-read!

I saw the movie first, and loved the way it brought to life the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three real-life Black female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the 1960s.

The book, however, includes even more fascinating details about the history of Black computers at NASA, and the many ways in which these women’s work was crucial to the space race.

It also features a far wider cast than the movie; as author Shetterly said in a 2016 interview…

From Charlie's list on history about women in science.

I’m a science writer and love to read and write about history’s hidden figures—especially women in science, art, and technology. Margot Lee Shetterly masterfully blends the biographies of five brave Black female mathematicians with the stories of America’s space program and the Space Race. Hidden Figures is a wonderful, inspiring book that illuminates an era bursting with creativity but weighed down by discrimination, introducing readers to a new group of American heroes.  

Margot Lee Shetterly’s account of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Christine Darden, and the other Black female mathematicians and engineers at what is now the NASA Langley Research Center is phenomenal. The 2016 movie was important in reaching a wide audience but didn’t do the story justice. Shetterly’s epic narrative spans the Second World War to the Apollo missions and interweaves the personal and the technical with the wider Civil Rights movement and the Cold War. I’m hard-pressed to cite my favorite part of the book, but one story moved me deeply. Upon winning the 1960 Virginia Peninsula Soap…

From Eric's list on aviation and space history.

The movie made from Hidden Figures was compelling and surprising: The U.S. government employed brilliant black women to help get men into outer space. In Shetterly’s book, you’ll find a story that is bigger. Shetterly introduces far more people than the three women spotlighted in the movie. Where did all of these women come from? How did they get beyond the entrenched racism in Virginia, the state surrounding Langley Research Center, where some counties even closed their public schools for years to both white and Black children rather than allow integration? How did these mathematicians gradually win the respect of…

From Victoria's list on American heroes to inspire your teenager.

This book makes you fall in love with smart, capable women and it got my twin middle school daughters excited about mastering mathematics. Hidden Figures follows the careers of not one but four extraordinary women—Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. These African-American women used their creativity and their exceptional math and engineering skills to succeed in the aeronautics industry. They not only had to excel at their jobs but had to do it during the Civil Rights era in a male-dominated industry. They approached challenges with confidence and determination and opened up opportunities by simply asking, “Why…

From Shaz's list on trailblazing smart women.

One of my earliest memories was hearing of John Glenn’s orbit in space. My father developed physics for future computers that would guide the rockets. Later I was amazed to read Margot Shetterly’s true story of Katherine Johnson and other Black women “computers” of the early space race. In a segregated workplace, these stellar professionals computed our first steps toward the stars. They did the math for space flight before any computers. Their astounding performance used entirely pencil and paper, and chalk on the board. Even when the first electronic computers came in, John Glenn asked Katherine Johnson to recheck…

Ever since 1962, we’ve been captivated by John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, where he became the first person to orbit Earth, and, after that, a hero for his feat. Hidden Figures shines a long-overdue light on the Black female mathematicians who not only made Glenn’s journey possible, but fueled successive American achievements in space. With a history that spans from World War II to the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, the book traces the stories – and struggles -- of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, all of whom made possible some of NASA’s greatest…

From Paige's list on women in STEM.

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