Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
The phenomenal true story of the Black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America's greatest achievements in space. Now 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 shots 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 as they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellects to change their own lives - and their country's future.
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 47 minutes|
|Author||Margot Lee Shetterly|
|Audible.ca Release Date||September 06 2016|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #25,363 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#21 in Women History
#39 in Mathematics (Audible Books & Originals)
#81 in Astronomy & Space Science (Audible Books & Originals)
Top reviews from Canada
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The story brings to mind the period, only about 30 years ago, when I was doing my PhD. I traveled to a university in the UK to consult with one of the leading experts in my subject of study. I was utterly surprised to discover that person I had gone to see was actually a woman!! She had been forced to hide her female identity. She was listed in the university and published under a male first name!! She explained to me that women were not allowed to be in "don positions" at the university and publishers were unwilling to publish work done by women. So she masqueraded as a man!!
There are still many more "Hidden Figures" stories to be told.
Top reviews from other countries
The first and most obvious, is the lack of any illustrations or photographs. It would have added significantly to the impact of the book to see photographs of the key individuals described in the book and also the buildings and laboratories/test equipment they were using. Many such photos exist as a quick check via Google shows. On a personal level, I would have enjoyed seeing some examples of the types of maths that were being used. I can understand this not being included in the main text but could have been included as an appendix.
There are two major themes carried in the writing, one being the difficulties and damage caused by segregation, the other being the emergence of NASA and the US space program. Hence, it is probably inevitable that book is written primarily for US readership. That is not meant as criticism, only as an observation. In practice, for readers outside the US, it may mean resorting to Google to find out about individuals referred to in the book but are not well known outside the US. As an example, I can cite the mention of Althea Gibson: an apt but not obvious choice as a sportsperson.
I found the balance tilted more towards the discussion of segregation than the technical and scientific aspects . In places, the description of the cruelties and loss inflicted by segregation became a little repetitive. But it could also be argued some issues bear repeating. On the other hand, as a child, I recall listening to discussions about how the US overtook the USSR as it was then because of its mastery of the orbital mechanics required for spacecraft rendezvous. I was hoping to learn more about the role Katherine Johnson played in this development. In the film of the same name, there was a scene which seemed to indicate she had played a/the key role in mastering the maths involved but there was scant mention in the book. The book did refer to Mrs.Johnson's calculations in the launches of the early Mercury astronauts and, later, Apollo 11 and 13. But, I'm still wondering if she led the refinement and application of the maths involved in space rendezvous.
Two, minor themes of the book were the male - female and the engineer versus non-engineer biases at NACA and later NASA. The former was (and may probably still be) true of most working environments at that time. As for engineers: it's not just in the aerospace industry that engineers consider themselves to be first among equals. That being said, as a non-engineer who worked with engineers of different flavours (electrical, mechanical and chemical) at different times, I find them to be an uncommonly well qualified and knowledgeable cadre. In any working environment, someone has to lead and in a technology-led domain like aerospace, it's inevitable that engineers take charge. I can point to the decline of several large corporations when the engineers who founded the company were replaced by bureaucrats and bean-counters.
But these are mainly personal observations about a fine book which I have recommended to several friends and my family. The book is well written and carefully researched as attested by the long list of notes and the bibliography.
The book is a little hard to read at first because of the vast cast of characters, but it's well worth persevering. It is a brilliant account of character, politics and ability, breaking stereotypes as it goes. If you are interested in men in space, in the history of science, in black women's lives, in women in science or just in finding how much of the film was factual ( almost all of it, but not in quite the same way it happened; they moved parts around to create a filmable story) Read This Book. I learned a great from it and it is life enhancing to see how strong the characters of black women can be. I feel chastened, and am clearly undereducated in life, in ways these women were not.
It's infuriating that so many of these women were lost or forgotten a bit in history due to the true nature of many women which is to put your head down, and just work your best while forgetting to speak up and speak out about your true talents and progress. And also the assumption of men that the women shouldn't have gotten any credit for all the amazing projects they helped build with their amazing minds.
I would have liked more focus on the Mercury and Apollo era as I felt by the time we got to this point in history, the actual space exploration was a bit skipped over and didn't seem to get as much emphasis as the build up to NASA in the 40s and 50s.
I'm also not someone blessed with a mathematical brain, at all, so there were some science-y bits in this book that I definitely did not understand at all.