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

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

by Margot Lee Shetterly


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The #1 New York Times bestseller

The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Now a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.

Before 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.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

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.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062363596
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 193,060
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the women in her book Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Prologue xi

1 A Door Opens 1

2 Mobilization 14

3 Past Is Prologue 29

4 The Double V 41

5 Manifest Destiny 57

6 War Birds 79

7 The Duration 95

8 Those Who Move Forward 108

9 Breaking Barriers 122

10 Home by the Sea 149

11 The Area Rule 171

12 Serendipity 186

13 Turbulence 199

14 Angle of Attack 219

15 Young, Gifted, and Black 237

16 What a Difference a Day Makes 255

17 Outer Space 277

18 With All Deliberate Speed 290

19 Model Behavior 307

20 Degrees of Freedom 321

21 Out of the Past, the Future 339

22 America Is for Everybody 362

23 To Boldly Go 376

Epilogue 396

Acknowledgments 429

Notes 437

Bibliography 525

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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To think such change occurred over one lifetime is utterly amazing. How quickly we accept and forget. Considering our current political uncertainty, it is most urgent that we are reminded of where we were just a few years ago and to consciously refuse to let us slip back. Thank you for this most revealing and thought-provoking read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the movie and the book. The gives you more details of what these women had to deal with...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the extraordinary book, Hidden Figures. It was educational and told a true story about the ignorance of racism and sexism in America. I am so grateful for the dedicated, courageous, and inspiring women of color for their contibutions to science and humanity. I want to thank the author for her tenacious fortitude in bringing the contributions and lives of these brillant women out of the shadows. This book ought to be required reading in every highschool. Thank you Margot Lee Shetterly for righting history and for enlightening the dignity and respect of women in our history and forever!
LeighKramer More than 1 year ago
What can I say about this remarkable book? I was drawn in from the moment the author described how the story first came to her- literally through an off-handed comment from her dad as they were driving through her hometown. She was the right person at the right time and place to discover, research, and then write about the women who directly impacted NASA's space race. Just as those women were in the right place at the right time to integrate NACA (what later became NASA) and then ascend its ranks, many going from computers to receiving the designation of mathematicians and even engineers. I had never heard heard about the West Computers before. Nor had I thought much about how the NASA program came to be or just how much math was involved, especially before electric computers were around. And I definitely didn't have a sense about how exciting this time was. I found this book to be incredibly educational on many fronts. Hidden Figures is part history book, part profile of several of these computers. It's in a similar vein as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Unbroken, and The Boys On The Boat. Hidden Figures covers more than 25 years between when the first black women were hired in 1943 to the successful launch of Apollo 11 in 1969 and a little of the years after. The story of what these women accomplished is incredible in itself. I'm not mathematically gifted so reading about the calculations they were figuring out and how it was used to invent plane and then space technology boggled my mind. Katherine Johnson, who is probably the most well known of the West Computers, directly contributed to the space launch. But if anything is evident after reading this book, it's that every single employee, from the janitor to the engineer, made that accomplishment happen and it is sad that history books tell us about the astronauts and maybe the engineers but that's it. Each of the women profiled deserve to have a book written about them alone! I do wish some of their stories had been further fleshed out. Overall, Shetterly did a great job bringing these amazing women to life. What elevates this book even further is its consideration of racism and sexism. Just because NACA was at the forefront of integration does not mean its black workers were treated fairly. There were separate bathrooms and a separate table in the cafeteria. They could work alongside white colleagues but they were still kept in their "place." Each person responded to this differently. And as the times changed, so too did NACA and this was gratifying to see. It also highlighted the disparity with the state of Virginia, which greatly resisted desegregation. This was also at a time when men didn't believe women's delicate brains could handle tricky mathematics so all women, black and white, started out as computers, even though men with the same experience were hired as mathematicians. Women had to prove themselves over and over again and some eventually got to pursue higher degrees and were promoted, though this often depended on which engineer they worked for. All people deserve to be treated fairly and to have the same rights because it's the right thing to do. Because we are better together. Because we have so much to learn from one another. It's a lesson we need to keep in mind these days. Disclosure: I was provided an ARC from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Haven't read it yet but this review is to counter the idiot who called this book propaganda. Katherine Johnson was not white. She is obviously a light skinned black woman. Her skin was darker in earlier photos and lightened with age, as her black hair became white. She is either mixed or light skinned, either still makes her a black woman. If you feel so triggered or offended that you need to make a stink about her skin tone and call the book propaganda you need help. Black people do not just come in black or brown, they are a myriad of different shades. How but YOU do your research,
dragonfly753 More than 1 year ago
I just saw the movie today, but I haven't read the book, yet. As other reviewers have stated, I never realized all the hands on mathematics and science that went on before the introduction of the main frame computer. The stories, individually and collectively, of these women, of their sheer brilliance and fortitude, holding their own, in a white/male dominated world and pursuits (even men of color treated them as if their brains were only good for domestic duties), were awe-inspiring. How these women persevered and fought sexism and racial prejudice is an inspiration for all women. The WAY they fought against these prejudices, with such quiet confidence, dignity and class, should be an inspiration for all people no matter their sex, sexual orientation, race or color. In my opinion, they exemplified the very best of humanity and we could all learn from their examples. The movie was one of the best I've seen in a long time, I can't wait to read the book.
Obsidian13 More than 1 year ago
Everyone should read this book. It is a history lesson of what makes America great. Everyone no matter what race cream or colour working togetber. It emphases the need for math and science in our schools. Team work is the goal. When we put our minds together look what we can achieve. "What the mind can conceive it can achieve" Napoli an Hill. Douglas Herr
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brilliantly portrays the life and history of the time for these pioneering women of color who opened so many doors at NASA.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author did an amazing job painting a picture of what it meant to be black in America and at NACA/NASA. Personally, I loved all the extra technical and science information, but for the less science-minded, they might get tedious. I highly recommend this book to anyone, even without an interest in the space race.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Tough READ for me at times, but was a really good one
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was great book. So is the movie!!!!!!! U Should Read It.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great stories
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you for this enlightening story. Love these remarkable ladies who rose above racism and sexism with such grace and intelligence.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rebecca_J_Allen More than 1 year ago
My daughter and I saw Hidden Figures in the theater and were cheering for the characters by the end, so I felt confident that the book would be great too. We loved the interwoven stories of the talented mathematicians who not only took on work that would be challenging to someone of either gender and any skin-color, but at the same time also had to push through the limits American society placed on black women. And they did it with class. Katherine Johnson pushed to get her work taken seriously, positioning herself to undertake leading-edge thinking on the mathematics of getting astronauts into space. At John Glenn's request, she checked the orbital trajectory computed by the newly-installed IBM electronic computer for America's first manned space flight. Mary Jackson pushed limits by getting the education required to become an engineer, including taking classes at a whites-only school because key classes weren’t taught elsewhere. She used her engineering skills to conduct experiments on flight in the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the precursor agency to NASA) wind tunnels. Dorothy Vaugh managed the West Computing group at NACA , helping many black women to launch and advance their careers. She also transformed her own career and those of colleagues as computing transitioned from something done by people using slide rules and calculating machines to something done using the first electronic computers. Dorothy saw the future of electronic computers, educated herself in programming, and encouraged others to embrace this technological advance. In each of these stories, the women combined the intelligence necessary to take on exacting work with the drive to overcome obstacles society put in their way. I learned a lot from the book because it provided deeper historical context than the movie – how the timing of these women’s lives and work tied into Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white person, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech, and the adoption of equal-opportunity legislation. I usually stand firmly in “the book was better” camp, but for Hidden Figures, I recommend both the book and the movie! Delve more deeply into these women's stories and their historic significance with the book and the see their stories come to life in the movie! I read the adult version of Hidden Figures, but there is a young readers' version too and, in January 2018, the picture book version was published. It's gorgeously illustrated and makes the story of these American heroes come to life for the youngest of readers. It was recently featured in Brightly's 18 Must-Read Picture Books of 2018. According to Brightly, it "Will inspire girls and boys alike to love math, believe in themselves, and reach for the stars." We agree!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book consisted of very little dialogue, so it was hard for me to follow along. There was nothing to split up the detailed writing. Great story, just hard for me to get through without having dialogue.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Movie was just as good as book..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every American should read this book or see the movie to get a vision of the history that has been hidden from us. My cousin was part of this story--a white male who only shared with me when he could. I remember in the late 60's reaching for a book of his and he said his hand on mine and quietly saying "sorry that is restricted reading. In 2000's he retired and began sharing some of his stories. He died before this book came out. How I wish I could have talked to him about this I
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book, and the movie.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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SUEHAV More than 1 year ago
What women, what a good read. I had no idea. I hope this story is taught in school.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the novel, Hidden Figures, the author, Margot Lee Shetterly, follows the lives of four African-American females and their pathway to NASA. In this time period, women were not thought of as people who should be doing math calculations, let alone African-American women. However, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden beat this stereotype and powerfully influenced the space race and helped John Glenn launch into space. Shetterly did an excellent job of portraying the hardships these women had to overcome. Shetterly actually knew many women in Hidden Figures. Margot Lee is known for her research on women in computing. This novel is an excellent selection for girls/women who are interested in math and engineering. The book depicts the discrimination and hateful behavior these girls had to go through. It is an eye opener for society to understand that it is not right to treat females that way. This book was made into a movie, which was an excellent choice to put the discrimination in picture to show the viewers how bad it was. Shetterly does an excellent job by following these four females and their rise to success. She was able to incorporate actual facts about the Civil Rights Movement as well, which include Woodrow Wilson’s false promises and Brown vs. The Board of Education. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something about powerful women and how discrimination almost limited the United States potential for success.