Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians know 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. Originally math teachers in the South’s segregated public schools, these gifted professionals answered Uncle Sam’s call during the labour shortages of World War II. With new jobs at the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, they finally had a shot at jobs that would push their skills to the limits.
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 Societ 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 Figuresfollows 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 intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.
I have got very mixed feelings about this book and how to rate it.
First of all, the story is incredible. It is inspiring and so important, and just overal amazing. The fact that it is a non-fiction adds to all of that. I am very happy to have read this book and so have learned about these awesome women.
However… the writing just really didn’t work for me. Maybe it is because I have read very few non-fiction books (not for fun at least) and am just not used to the style. It was very flat, preventing the book from giving me what I wanted from it: a connection with this women and a feeling like I knew who they were. I was at no point invested in the story or curious about what would happen next. It was just so dry and repetitive, which blunted the effect I am sure the author intended to have, and at times it was even boring. Which is just such a shame, because the whole story, the growth of the institute, the transformations of laws, and of course the lives of these women, are so interesting and deserve better.
Which is what the movie brings… it almost pains me to say this, but in this case the movie (which I watched after reading the book) Is better than the book. Yes, it is dramatized, but it is also more personal. It pulls the audience in and shows the women like people instead of a list of facts.
This is an important story, one that needs to be told. The movie does do this better, or at least in a more enjoyable and memorable way. But I do still recommend reading the book as well, to learn the true facts behind the exaggerations that you get with making a movie. It is these amazing women that matter…