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Jul 18

Review: Hidden Figures

Posted on July 18, 2017 at 2:43 PM by Elizabeth Land

"It's a story of hope, that even among some of our country's harshest realities—legalized segregation, racial discrimination—there is evidence of the triumph of meritocracy, that each of us should be allowed to rise as a far as our talent and hard work can take us." — Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures 

From the Publisher
Book cover for Hidden Figures by Margot Lee ShetterlyBefore 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 a shot 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. 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 they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country's future.


Focusing on the lives of just of few of the West Computing group allowed the author to delve deeply into the everyday lives of these women, juxtaposing the mundane with the extraordinary to offer a full portrait of the challenges these brave women faced and the successes they achieved. Readers will be surprised at the number of indignities these women quietly shouldered in pursuit of their larger devotion to both mathematics and their country.

Shetterly is strongest when she grounds the previously untold actions of these women in the events that we all have read in our history books. Often Shetterly highlights larger moments in the Civil Rights Movement and reveals how these women accomplished their own quiet protests. This is a story both of the achievements of African Americans in a segregated world, but also of women facing glass ceilings. Plus, seeing how these wider movements played out in Virginia and Hampton Roads is eye-opening.

Hidden Figures is available in hardcover and downloadable formats from the York County Public Library. Log on to our online catalog to request your copy today!