Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a non-fiction book about the untold story of the black women computers of NASA. Shetterly’s book has received numerous awards and award nominations, including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction and the Goodreads Choice Award nomination for History and Biography.
Shetterly tells the sweeping history of the early days of aeronautics in the United States, starting from WW II and moving through the civil rights era and well into the late sixties. This history follows several women, who later become mathematicians/computers for NASA, even before it is called NASA. Though these women live in a time of racial and gender inequality, they manage to make great strides within the world of science and contribute massively to America’s push to send a man to the moon.
I love books about space, particularly about America’s space race history. I find the subject both fascinating and awe-inspiring. So I knew going into this book that I’d be stoked to find out more about the people behind America’s success in reaching space.
I was not disappointed. Shetterly focuses on five women who contribute to this space race, who are skilled mathematicians and who break barriers, not just in science, but also in race relations and gender relations. These women are so inspiring. I was blown away to read about NASA’s racially diverse staff – which, though starting out segregated, became desegregated early on and really relied heavily on these African-American women. Their stories were varied, unique, and interesting. Shetterly focuses a lot on civil rights involvement as well as the schooling and opportunities available to these women.
I definitely appreciated learning about this different side of NASA and all the work (math) that went into pulling off successful space flight missions. It is incredibly involved, has hundreds of minds working on it, and is ultimately so inspiring.
Literary Value: 3/5
I like reading non-fiction books, when they’re told well and in a way that is accessible to a lay-person, is not dry, and doesn’t include lots of extraneous detail that ultimately bogs down the story.
I think Shetterly’s writing slides right between being too try and just right. She includes lots and lots of detail, much of which I understand is there to give a better picture of the historical moment in time, and motives behind attitudes and reasons for certain figures doing things, but it also made following the over-arching story a bit difficult.
I also found the amount of time covered interesting. Shetterly would take long moments to set up the period in time before relating back to the lives of the women whose story she’s telling. At times, it was appreciated, because it gave a wider picture of what was going on while NASA was operating. But at other times, it made following the story complicated and that’s not something you want to do when writing a nonfiction book. I’ll chalking it up to this being the first nonfiction book she’s written, so she hasn’t yet hit her stride.
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
I really enjoyed this untold story coming to light. I loved hearing about the early days of NASA and the sheer amount of women who were basically kicking math ass and making so many breakthroughs, some of which still have impact today. I listened to the audiobook, so this might have affected my scoring, but I found the story to be a bit dry in areas, and the wording to sometimes be a bit clumsy. This didn’t kill my overall enjoyment of the story, but I think it kept me from getting fully immersed in the story and following everything in a clear, streamlined way.
Cover Rating: 2/5
I’m…not really a fan of this cover. I’m specifically avoiding the “movie cover” cover because I think it’s kind of unfair to the real women computers to eschew their photos for the movie star versions of themselves. But for the original cover…it’s boring, it doesn’t really do the women justice to have their photo so cropped and diminished, and I just don’t like the color scheme happening. It doesn’t make me thing of aeronautics or space when I look at it, which, I think is major, since this book is about the black women mathematicians of NASA. Call me crazy, but I think the jacket artist wasn’t really thinking about the book’s content when designing this cover.
Overall Rating: 3.25/5 Rockets 🚀🚀🚀
I learned a lot while reading (listening to) this book, which is really what you want in a nonfiction book. I appreciate Shetterly’s researching this story, because truly, before this book came out, I never read/heard anything about these amazing women, which is a crime. I am so glad to be handed a piece of their history in book form, so that I could experience even just a fragment of their lives and witness their contributions to science and space exploration.
If you haven’t read this book, you really should. I think it should at least be touched on in school history classes, because it’s such an empowering story, not just for women and people of color, but also anyone interested in going into science.
Thoughts & Thanks!
Thank you so much for reading my review. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to read this book, because it’s amazing. If you’ve read the book or are thinking about reading it, let me know! Let’s chat in the comments!