“Hidden Untold Story of the Black Women

“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 was the book I had chosen for my first book review.

This book illustrates a remarkable story about Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden. These unbelievably black women had to face impossible obstacles as they went to work as “calculators” at NASA but at the time was called, “National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics” also known as NACA. Despite the amount of social and political challenges they have faced at the heights of Jim Crow, these women became an essential project that put the first man on the moon. Hidden Figures tells a story about four amazing women whose contribution to science led to NASA’s greatest successes. Not only does Margot Lee highlight an astonishing account of intelligent, hard-working, and devoted African-American women who made crucial contributions to the Space Race but they also changed history.

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Firstly, I thought that the author, Margot Lee, thoroughly researched the information that was mentioned in this book. She had provided us with quite a few details that included: the civil rights movement, school segregation, and etc. These women had to face many difficult obstacles and unfairness in their workplace as they continued to live in a country where being a white male meant the best chances of fair pay and advancement. However, these women’s bright minds did not go unnoticed and soon they each gained respect from their coworkers which they deserved. Their willpower soon led them to opportunities that they thought were unimaginable. Yet, after everything they all went through to get to where they were, they still had to face the ugly reality of a “colored only” bathroom in the workplace.

Although this may be true, women were not taken seriously as men when it came to this profession. NASA began hiring women during World War II as “female computers”. Every women who did the work of mathematicians were considered to be less of a professional and in result was being paid less. Each specific character in this story worked hard in their career but was not acknowledged for their hard work. Around 1940s, there was a drive in hiring qualified black women because there was a huge demand that white employees could not satisfy. Many people of skin color were given an opportunity to show off their skills in the real world. In addition, I enjoyed how this book focused a lot on the individual stories for each of the women. I was very inspired by the sacrifices, determination, and intelligence each of these ladies had to offer.

The book incorporated few stories of history that moved around from WWII, then to the Cold War and then the Space Race. The crazy thing to top everything off in this book was that these “human computer” women were forced to work on the west side of the Langley campus. If they were to go anywhere else, they would get a judged look on everyone’s faces who saw them. It is very disappointing to imagine all the brilliant minds that never realized their potentials because of influences like race, gender, and income. Hidden Figures includes a lot of feminism and breaking down race barriers which I enjoyed.

Reading more into this book, I really respect the message that Margot Lee was writing about. Even more, I was on board to calling attention to something that most Americans were very ignorant about women’s roles and black people’s roles in NASA during the Space Race and WWII. Something that is able to shock the news and people where the story is important and true should be shared. Interestingly, this book was soon made into a movie which was even better, because a lot of people would not read the book.

Black history in America, as Shetterly points out, is extremely hidden. Stories like this one can inspire young females to follow their dreams no matter what society may say we can or cannot do. Despite the good messages in this book, I do have my opinions and reviews. While reading the book, I thought that the book was not well written. Shetterly was unable to distinguish characters from one another. As I was reading each chapter, I could not tell the difference at times between Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary. I could not depict them apart by what they did, what their roles were, and it seemed to be all mixed together due to Shetterly’s incapability to develop a characteristic trait for any of them. She often also switches from character to another, and then change the time period in each chapter which made it very confusing.

It also is hard to differentiate the three women focused on here. “Katherine listened intently as her brother-in-law described the work, her thumb cradling her chin, her index finger extended along her cheek, the signal that she was listening carefully” (118). In this quote, Katherine is reporting back on a conversation that she was not present in. Also, she is hearing about this conversation from something that happened over 60 years ago.

Overall, I believe that this book could be a great learning experience to the audience. Shetterly gives an insight to a “behind of the scenes” making of what happens during the space program. Not only the behind the scenes, but this book gives a great representation that everyone’s role in this story and their contribution is twice as important too. A main character does not always have to make the biggest difference. Best of all, this book is based on a true story. This was such an extraordinary and important story to tell, but the only problem was that the writing was a bit dry and repetitive. In Conclusion, Shetterly did a great job at using information to help set the settings in the story. Though, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was more interested in science or space.

For me, I just lacked the understanding for this topic, which is why I often found myself disconnecting to the book. However, the life stories this book portrays are very inspiring and moving. I am here for the strong and educated women of every race and heritage, taking a stand for what the believe in, breaking down stereotypes, and proving that they have the brains it takes to work in one of the most scientific facilities in the world.

This book reminded me that people who take opportunities and master them, people who hold doors open for the less fortunate and give them a chance to shine, people who value bravery and kindness more than anything else, shine brighter than the rest. This is why I believe this book is worth reading.


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