Hidden Figures Review

51o1si8z4slAuthor: Margot Lee Shetterly
Nonfiction, History, Feminism
December 6, 2016 (Movie Tie-In)
Retail Price:
$15.99 (Movie Tie-In Paperback)
4.5 stars

“growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown like mine” (xiii).


Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and 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—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.

Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or 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 by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.

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 scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.

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“‘Help us get some of the blessings of democracy here at home first before you jump on the “free other peoples” bandwagon and tell us to go forth and die in a foreign land…'” (34).


I originally found out that the new movie was a book when I saw it while scrolling through Instagram. Being a freak who can only read the book before I see the movie I think “I have the get this book and read it first“. Coming back from a trip to St. Louis late on New Year’s Eve, my parents get the mail and I have a package from my great Aunt. Opening it, I see Hidden Figures staring back at me. I cheered with excitement as I had just asked for it about 2 days before.

Going into this book I knew it was the empowering story of the women (specifically black) that helped get the first man on the moon. I sure was inspired by this empowering story and I sure was informed in all that these hidden women had done for Langley leading up to the landing on the moon.

To give a quick synopsis, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, is about many women but specifically Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Charlene Darden. Telling a story decades longing starting during World War II through to the civil rights movements and the Space Race.

Being that I don’t read much nonfiction, this was a little hard and confusing for me to get through as it was so much real information being thrown at me that I usually don’t get when reading. But I enjoyed everything that I learned, even if I didn’t comprehend much haha. The general way of the journey through racism and the civil and women’s right movement captivated me enough. I was shocked at how much I, and most likely many other people, don’t know about the actual fight for many things here in America. Getting that informational insight of what I don’t get taught in school is the best thing I could get from a novel.

I could have given this novel a 5 star rating for my first read of the new year but I was too often confused with the timeline of things as the author had to switch between different times to correctly formulate the story. This is probably only me though, a reason why I need to read more books like this.

“‘You are no better than anyone else, and no one is better than you’…” (70).

Favorite Quotes

“it was Randolph’s long-term vision… that pried open the door that had been closed…” (6).

“K9 dogs boarded vessels with their faithful two-legged companions” (28).

“‘Those countries where colored persons constitute a majority should not be able to point to a double standard existing within the United States'” (170).

“the history of their country written in the great diversity of their features and hair and skin color, which ranged from near-ivory to almost-ebony, hues of beige and coffee and cocoa and topaz filling between” (235).

I hope you enjoyed this review! I can’t wait to see the movie as soon as I can. Tell me down below; have you seen the movie? What did you think of it? Have you read this book? What did you think of that? – Kambria



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