Book of the Month: Hidden Figures

For this month’s book of the month, I chose Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly! February is Black History Month, so I decided that it’d make the most sense to read a historical fiction novel about the black women who raised the United States above everyone else during the Space Race. The title of the book is telling about the nature of these women; more often than not, these women were hidden from being the face of the successes of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), otherwise known as the precursor to NASA. And in doing so, they were buried in history.

The story doesn’t begin like every other. It starts with an entire history, building to the point where you feel absolutely immersed in the world. When I first dove into the book, I’ll admit I was a little overwhelmed. Then I grew to appreciate that this was a book you can sink your teeth into. Although dense, it’s not dense for the sake of being dense. It’s dense because it is intentionally rich. I haven’t been one for historical novels in the past, since most to my knowledge were about little girls on prairies I couldn't care less about. This book, however, is absolutely decadent in historical importance.

This book’s importance is more than just a good read. It’s a reminder that we still live in times where we undermine the voices of those we need to hear most.

This book discusses what no one was willing to for the past… forever. Forever have black women been the silent heroes of an incredible amount of stories. So here are the names of the women who have impacted history as we know it:

Dorothy Vaughan was a mathematics teacher turned mathematician and engineer by teaching herself the programming language. She became so good, in fact, that her temporary job turned into a permanent career. So good, in fact, that her calculations aided the Scout Project, a mission to send rockets into space in order to place satellites in Earth’s orbit. She broke down the barriers of segregation at the Langley Research Center, eventually becoming a supervisor. She was the first black woman to become a supervisor at the center.

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Under Vaughan’s guidance, Katherine Goble Johnson flourished. At one point in her career she was temporarily placed in an all-male team, but was so pronounced in what she knew that, quote, “they forgot to return me back to the pool.” She was the woman responsible for sending the first American into space, the first American in orbit, and the flights to the moon.

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Also being supervised by Vaughan, Mary Jackson was recruited by NACA as a mathematician. Not even a couple years later, her proficiency was recognized and she was offered to work alongside engineers in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. She underwent training and took night classes in order to qualify for a position as an engineer. She became the first black female engineer at NASA, eventually achieving the highest seniority in the engineering sector. From then on, she continued to break the glass ceiling by establishing herself as a manager for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Program Manager.

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And these are just a few of the remarkable women in this book and in history. Margot Lee Shetterly, the author, stressed in the preface that she dug and dug for research, but it was scarce due to the lack of records on these specific women and more. The lengths Shetterly went to find information were great, and they were well worth the effort seeing as her words soon came to life in a movie. I believe everyone should read this book, not just for the quality of writing, but to finally put names and faces to the hidden figures in history that matter just as much as the public ones.