Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, narrated by Robin Miles
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*Published September 2, 2016*
I’ve had this audiobook just sitting in my Audible library for several years. I believe I got it when the movie Hidden Figures was first coming out and I was curious about the book that had inspired the movie. It wasn’t until this past time in shelter-in-place that I felt any real desire to actually listen to it.
Audio Length: 10 hrs and 47mins
Soon to be a motion picture. The #1 New York Times Bestseller. Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts, into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.
I don’t know a lot about NASA, or the people who work at NASA. What I do know, I’ve gleaned from movies and science fiction books, and those can be fairly inaccurate, as you well know. Now to have a book that focuses exclusively on the “hidden figures” at NACA, which would eventually come to be known as NASA, it was a lot of interesting history to learn about.
I loved learning about the women computers and how they were the ones who calculated the paths and trajectories of those that went into space, both inanimate and animate. I loved learning that the majority of those women computers were black woman who had to fight for the title of computer, and then fight for the title of mathematician years later. I loved learning that a lot of the behind the scenes work was done by women, and black women at that!
What I didn’t like about this book was the writing. It just didn’t really make sense. The main issue for me was how much Margot Shetterly jumped around in the timeline of these women’s lives. One moment, she might be talking about the grade-school years of Katherine, the next about her years as a mother. I also couldn’t tell these women apart by their stories and their lives. They all were written almost exactly the same, so I couldn’t even tell you for sure if Katherine became a mother, or anything. And that disappoints me more than almost anything else, because I got this book to learn more about the women at NASA, yet I didn’t learn much about them individually at all. I really wish that I could have, if just to have a bit more information on each of them to share with those I think would enjoy learning more about NASA and the women who helped build it up.
Overall, while a good book, not one that I’ll turn to again. I couldn’t keep the women straight, or their stories, and I couldn’t follow their timelines at all. I do wish it could have been a bit more cohesive and thought out, but I’m glad the stories of these women have started to come to light.
What parts of history did you wish you knew more about? What are you doing to find out more? Comment below and let me know what excites you about history!