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

By: Margot Lee Shetterly

( 1  total rating )

Recommended for grade(s): 10, 11, 12

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. –From the website at HarperCollins

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This is one of those cases where the book is much more intricate and interesting than the movie. I have to confess that I saw this movie first, and the action in the movie is more or less focused on one character, which makes it too simple. But in the book, we get to see three complicated people (and more) who are BRILLIANT in their fields, but nobody else wants to admit it. They're not perfect these ladies, but they're dealing with a lot of assumptions in a graceful way (most of the time, but not always.) And the assumptions aren't just about race. A lot of it has to do with the fact that they are working career women in a time in America when a lot of ladies were staying home to be moms and housewives. If you are a girl, you should read this book. If you are a BLACK girl, you have to read it.