The Book’s Basics
Title: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Genre: Non-Fiction. American History
Length: 346 pages
Initial Reaction: This book was slow, but a worthwhile read.
This book primarily focuses on the Black women who helped to develop the space program in the US. It starts off during the 1930s, through WW2, and into the early 1970s.
It covers several Black women who had to experience racism and sexism, while also working hard and handling family lives. They are very smart and are well educated in math and economics. There is a lot of discrimination throughout the story while the women worked at NACA and NASA.
It covers the contributions that they provided, but also shows that there were Black women holding positions in mathematic and scientific jobs which had broad benefits for scientific and technological advancement.
Who would I recommend this book to?
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in aerospace technology, recent US history, women’s history, or the experience of black people in the US. These are broad topics, but they all play key parts in the book.
I wasn’t particularly interested in the technological aspects of the book – math and physics have never been strong suits – and so those sections dragged for me. I ended up switching to the audiobook version fairly early on, which helped me get through it.
I’m still glad that I read it, though. It’s important to know about the contributions that people have made, especially those whose contributions have traditionally have been swept under the rug and are not particularly well known. Before this book came out, I didn’t know that any women played a part in aeronautics during the Second World War and the Space Race, but there were possibly over a thousand. That their stories have not been told up until recently is, unfortunately, not surprising to me, but I am glad that some of the women have had their stories told.
But the book is also honest and shows that it wasn’t easy for the women to work. Not because of their capabilities, they were more than capable, but because of the prejudices that they faced.
In spite of this, I hope that it helps to show young women, especially women of colour, that they belong in spaces that are traditionally male and traditionally white, and that they can be successful and thrive. And that it shows anyone who might underestimate someone because of their gender or skin colour (or any other “difference”) to reevaluate their prejudices and to recognise that how someone looks doesn’t dictate what they are capable of.
I read this book as part of a book and movie club. While I found the book slow, the movie was excellent.
If focused on three women working at NASA during the space race.
Usually, I prefer book editions to movies, but in this case preferred the movie. It focused more on the women and their contributions during a shorter amount of time.
I would recommend the movie to anyone as it was so good. It had humour in it, but didn’t diminish the difficulties that the women of colour were up against, and it celebrated their accomplishments, intelligence, and tenacity.
Writer Craft Notes
I am an unpublished writer, but I would like to be published some day, so when I read a book I am trying to be more aware of the author’s craft and what I can learn from them.
I believe one can learn from any writing, even if it isn’t in the genre that they write in. Hidden Figures is non-fiction, and while I enjoy reading in this genre it is not one that I plan on writing in.
This book was a bit slow for me, but I think that Shetterly did a good job with taking a lot of information and different threads and tying them together. It was an ambitious book; covering several women, organisations, politics, civil rights, and technological advancements all over fifty years. There was a lot to get in and it isn’t a particularly long book. It does make it feel a bit removed and disjointed between having to jump around to the different focuses in the book. The movie narrowed the focus to the people rather than the broader aspects of their work and the political and social landscapes they lived in, which I enjoyed more. The technology and society they lived in were still present and important in the movie, but it felt more like a dramatisation than a documentary, which is more of what I expected after I had finished the book.
The book had a lot of sections relating to physics and aeronautics, which I didn’t understand a lot of. But, of course, I might not have been the target audience, and I think that’s an important consideration when reviewing books.
I still think this was a well written book and I am glad that I read it.