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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
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Audiobook10 hours

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

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly

Narrated by Robin Miles

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars



About this audiobook

The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America's greatest achievements in space. Soon to be 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.

Editor's Note

We all pee the same color…

Thanks to Shetterly’s blockbuster book, the black female mathematicians whose calculations were critical to winning the space race in a still-segregated America are a hidden history no more. A crucial story that challenges our conceptions.

Release dateSep 6, 2016
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

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Margot Lee Shetterly

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.

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Rating: 3.3694267515923566 out of 5 stars

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Really great story
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly is a book not only about strong women but more. It is a book about society, struggles, overcoming prejudices, spirit, strong will, and brains. This is a history lesson for all of us not to repeat mistakes. This book follows a handful of smart and tough women as they work their way through a society rigged against them in every way until they get a small break and they let their brilliance shine. They deserved more credit then but society still wasn't ready and is it still? I wonder watching the news...I am glad they finally got some kind of recognition for their service and tenacity. You go girls!
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    A well-written history of the black women behind the visible men of NASA, their lives and contributions to American progress, and a clear case for the ways that structural racism and segregation has held that progress back.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Loved the movie. Great book. As usual, the movie differs a bit from the book but not in a glaring way.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Superficially, this book covers the same territory as The Rise of the Rocket Girls, published earlier the same year. Although the books both tell the story of women breaking into mathematics, engineering, and the space program, starting int the early 20th century, via the originally rather mundane role of "computers," in reality there's a very important difference. The Rocket Girls at what became NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were overwhelmingly white. Shetterly follows black women charting the same course at Langley, in Virginia, where in addition to facing the obstacles women faced simply for being women, the black women were also challenging institutionalized racism in one of the states where it was most entrenched. They had an opening because the demand for mathematicians who could do the work was so high that white men, especially in the WWII years, weren't available in the numbers needed. Holding on and moving ahead depended on their own talent and hard work, plus the persistence and resilience to overcome the discrimination.

    The women, both black and white, started out when the word "computer" meant a person doing the calculations by hand that were needed for astronomy, engineering, and other areas that needed high-level math in quantity and at speed. As it became one of the few jobs other than nursing or teaching that a woman of education could pursue, it attracted women of the same education and ability as many of the men who were being hired as engineers. That set up a dynamic that would play out over the years, as blacks both male and female, and women both black and white, began insisting on being recognized for their real contributions, and a percentage of it.

    Virginia law required that workplaces be segregated, so the black women hired as computers worked in a separate building that came to be known as West Computing. The white women were in East Computing.

    This book follows the stories of the women of West Computing, including Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, and West Computing itself from its earliest days with just twenty women, through the expansion during the war years and the space program. the women worked initially isolated at West Computing, but gradually began to work closely with various engineering groups, on airplane design, missiles, and eventually spacecraft and their guidance systems. Though it's now said they were known as "human computers," that's not quite right. The machines we now call early computers were late arrivals, here and everywhere else that the women known as computers worked. These women became the programmers of those machine computers, as the machines became reliable enough and powerful enough, and the engineers considered it beneath them.

    The women of West Computing struggled with both racism and sexism, but they were tough, smart, and persistent. As they more and more proved their value, increasing numbers of them became recognized as--and accorded the employment status of--mathematicians and engineers. In the 1950s and 1960s, Virginia resisted integration more than some other states, and even this federal facility had to work around that, but as time passed, individual computers and mathematicians became assigned permanently to the engineering groups they were working with most closely. When these women were from West Computing, that created a de facto integrated work group. It was a slow eating away at segregation, but it happened, whittling down the separate and segregated West Computing over years. Finally, when the Langley facility became part of NASA, segregation at all NASA facilities, and therefore West Computing, was abolished.

    We follow the personal lives of these women as well as their professional lives. The two interacted, as each was affected by World War II, the post-war years and the rising tension with the Soviet Union, and the growth of the space program and the space race. These women, along with their white counterparts at East Computing, and at JPL and elsewhere, were crucial to the success of the space program. It's a fascinating look at a corner of history that's generally overlooked, and it held my interest all the way through.

    Highly recommended.

    I bought this audiobook.
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    I hate doing this. It is very rare that I will give up on a book. I finish what I start! But I just can't get through this one. The subject is very interesting to me but every time I sit down to read I either find myself drifting off thinking about something else I would rather be reading or falling asleep. Even worse it's my book club pick for this month.
  • Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    I read this book because I enjoyed the movie so much. Unfortunately, the movie seems to have taken a Liberty Valance print-the-legend approach to the material, upping the drama by taking liberties with the facts. Shetterly sticks to the facts and outlines them in a dry, plodding and repetitive prose that made reading the book more than a bit of a chore. The subject matter remains a revelation and incredibly important, but I wish the reading experience could have been even partially as enjoyable as watching the film.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I'm late to the party, but still enjoyed this book very much. The author really did her research and wrote the story about NACA/NASA's black female computers in a smooth and informative way. There was enough explanation without getting lost or over simplified to follow along what Katherine, Dorothy and Mary did at their jobs and the issues they faced living in the segregated south.