Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 23 Feb 2018
Full Title: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
During the WW2-era United States, much like in many countries elsewhere, women had stepped up to positions traditionally held by men. Some worked in factories, some ferried military aircraft, some, such as those detailed by Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures, performed as mathematician-assistants to engineers at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). One of the many war time projects in which they participated was the wind tunnel testing of newly developed aircraft such as the B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber. After the war, these black women continued to perform vital functions during the space race for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA; NACA's successor organization). Despite their important functions, being female and being African-Americans, they were treated as second-class citizens, and their stories were little spoken of.
Although some parts of the book were rather dry, the writing reflected the author's careful research into the lives of these women and her eagerness to pass on this piece of history. The book was a collective memoir of several women, thus cannot be treated as a history text; nevertheless, I felt that it provided important insight into the lives of this often overlooked segment of the American population.
I had reviewed this book in its audio book edition, and thought that Robin Miles had done a good job with the reading.
Hidden Figures had been brought to my attention due to the release of the Hollywood film by the same name. The movie was decidedly more entertaining, but it was also much edited and dramatized. If you had enjoyed the film as well, pick up the book. If you could work through the slow narratives, you would undoubtedly find a new appreciation to the accomplishments and struggles of these black female mathematicians.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945