Book Review: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee ShetterleySet amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts, into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.


Like many people, I saw the movie when it was out in 2017 and I fell in love. I’ve always been fascinated by space exploration and NASA. Yes I believe in Aliens. In fact, when I was younger I wanted to be an astronaut and dad used to joke that I would be the first librarian on space, working on the ISS. My first trip to America we went to NASA in Florida and met the astronaut John Blaha. That was in 2005 and I still remember his name, standing there next to him to have my photo taken. Even now working for NASA would be absolutely something I love, I’m just not qualified for it and never will be the requirements are

 

  1. A bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics.
  2. At least three years of related professional experience obtained after degree completion OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft.
  3. The ability to pass the NASA long-duration astronaut physical. Distant and near visual acuity must be correctable to 20/20 for each eye. The use of glasses is acceptable.

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Also you know I’m not an American citizen so I would have to join the Australian one. Also at one point in them they had a height requirement that I didn’t meet but that seems to no longer be on the website.

Anyway, I can ramble about space a lot. Hidden Figures, was obviously a movie a loved and a book I was really looking forward to reading. Interestingly, it took me awhile to get started when I picked it up in September last year after I returned from my second trip to America. I did have a lot going on unexpectedly. I picked it up again a few days ago and started again and I loved it.

The book is incredibly detailed and well researched. Shetterley, has grown up around one of the woman who feature in the book and she extensively interviewed her for information about her time at NASA. All three women are exceptional people, incredibly intelligent and determined and come from accepting and even progressive families for that time.

While the book not surprisingly touches on many of the cultural issues of the time such as racism, sexism, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement that swept America in the 1960s, the author, especially at the beginning tended to use the word N**** in her writing instead of a more appropriate term when there was no need for it. It was very jarring especially at the beginning, though as the book progressed she seemed to stop doing so. As the author is a woman of colour, the term is a bit more contentious as it is acceptable for people to call themselves N***** if they are but not other people to do so.

Despite that, the book is incredibly captivating and interwoven between the lives of the women who feature in it. Everything that Shetterley touches on is interesting and makes you want to learn more about them, which I hope to do at some point in the future.

She even includes some interesting tidbits such as Martin Luther King Jr being a Trekkie which I loved!!!

It is certainly worth a read even if you aren’t interested in that sort of thing. , There are truly not enough books about this topic, something even with my extensive reading on WWII and Space Exploration i had no idea about.

★★★★★★★★★★/5

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