Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My take on: Hidden Figures

History is filled with a number of untold or under-told stories. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, is no different. It's the story of the incredible black women who helped launch astronauts such as John Glenn and Neil Armstrong to outer space. They were known as "human computers," but they were so much more.

Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were mathematicians, teachers, mothers, and wives. They had to deal with sexism and racism at a time when Jim Crow laws were still the norm. But everyday they got to work doing what they loved and had a passion for.

During World War II, the men were at war and women were needed in the workplace. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), now known as NASA, put out the call for women to serve their country. Women could play a small or a big part in winning the war. Women like Dorothy Vaughn. Dorothy, a college grad, went down the path many educated black women did before her -- by becoming a teacher. But she struggled to provided for her family on a teacher's salary, leading her to work in a laundry during the summer breaks. She wanted more. When the opportunity to work for the NACA presented itself it was too good to pass up. The NACA paid more than twice her teacher's salary. The opportunity for more and the call to serve also brought Mary, Katherine, and Christine to the NACA.

While black women played an important role in space exploration and aviation, it didn't change their role in the boardroom or in society at large. To be recognized or noticed for their work, female computers at the NACA had to team up or work under their male counterparts. Many men got the credit for the hard work done by women. Bathrooms and cafeterias at the NACA were still segregated. Buses were still segregated. Schools were still segregated. Progress was coming just not enough and not fast enough.

This was an important story and it deserved to be told. But.....I didn't like the way it was told. This book was often difficult to follow. I wish the author had just focused on the stories of the four women, but this book was very broad in its scope. There's heavy details on mathematics, segregation, racism, and science. Single books could be written on those topics alone, and trying to mash them all together just didn't work for me. The book often drifts away from Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine and gets bogged down in reflecting on the ever changing civil rights era. There's nothing wrong with giving some background for context, but sometimes the societal changes dominated what should be at the heart of this book -- the women of the NACA.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.

  2. The very element that you didn't enjoy about this one, is what made it so powerful for me; I'm guessing that the movie will be able to set time and place in minutes (rather than chapters so perhaps you will enjoy that more as you've enjoyed the story itself. I'm really looking forward to it too!