Hidden Figures: the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or 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 by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Review: Hidden Figures is an inspiring and enlightening story that gives us an inside look at the "invisible" World War II–era black female mathematicians who assisted greatly in the United States’ aeronautics industry. I have never heard of this important story and this is why this book is written to give due credit and acknowledgement of these hardworking women who endured so much in their careers and person life. The author draws her inspiration for her story after her father told her stories of the black female “computers” who were hired in 1943 to work in the computing pool. The first female computing pool, begun in the mid-1930s, had caused an uproar among the sexist men who didn't believe the female mind could not handle the rigors of math and work the expensive calculating machine. In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, desegregating the defense industry and paving the way for Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and others to begin work in 1943.
All of these women who were hired were mathematicians, either already holding master’s degrees or destined to gain one. It was hard enough to be a woman in the industry at that time, but to be a double minority it took an extra dose of courage and tenacity. These black women were incredibly strong, ambitious, sharp, and resilient enough to question their superiors when they are clearly wrong. They sought information, offered suggestions, caught errors, and authored research reports. They were professionals in every sense of the word, battling discrimination and sexism while managing their own personal lives. These stories are amazing not because how high the obstacles are stacked against them but because they helped each other rise up. Their work outside the office from Scout leaders, public speakers, and leaders of seminars to promote science and engineering was even more impressive and a testament to who they are. While all the science and math that were discussed in the book went over my head, I still really enjoyed this book and I look forward to seeing the movie adaptation of this incredible story.
Rating: 4 stars
Words of Caution: None. Recommended for teens and adults.
If you like this book try: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel