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Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition

Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition

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Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition

4/5 (102 évaluations)
186 pages
2 heures
Nov 29, 2016


Written by Scribd Editors

Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition tells the powerful story of four black mathematicians who worked at NASA and had a hand in achieving some of the greatest feats in space travel.

Long before Neil Armstrong spoke those famous words before taking his, and humanity's, first step on the moon, and well before John Glenn took his famous journey around the Earth, there was a group of four women who were famously referred as "human computers." These extraordinary mathematicians used pen and paper, rudimentary adding machines, and several slide rules in order to calculate the solutions that would launch rockets into space, keep astronauts alive, and, more importantly, get them home again.
Nov 29, 2016

À propos de l'auteur

Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the women in her book Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition - Margot Lee Shetterly



Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, I assumed the face of science was brown like mine. My dad worked at the Langley Research Center at NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He started there as an engineering intern in 1964 and retired as an internationally respected climate scientist in 2004. Our next-door neighbor taught physics. Our church pews were crowded with mathematicians. I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.

My father, who as a high school student had wanted to study electrical engineering, lived a different story. Become a physical education teacher, my grandfather told him. He thought my dad would have trouble finding work as an engineer. In the 1960s, most college-educated African Americans took teaching jobs or worked for the post office. As late as 1970, just 1 percent of all American engineers were black, and my father was one of them.

Because of my father’s job, I was part of the NASA family. I grew up saving my allowance to buy tickets to ride ponies at the annual NASA carnival and sharing my Christmas wish list with the Santa at the NASA holiday party. On Thursday nights, I sat with my family and cheered for the Stars, my dad’s NBA team (that’s the NASA Basketball Association).

My Sunday school teacher worked at NASA as a computer, doing the complex math for the aerospace engineers. She wasn’t alone: from the 1940s through the 1970s, hundreds of women, many of whom were black, worked as mathematicians at NASA. It wasn’t until I was older that I appreciated just how extraordinary this occupation was for black women in the South during the days of segregation. The first five women were hired at Langley as computers in 1935, and they were white. Ten years later, there were more than four hundred women working as mathematicians, and many of them were black.

The contributions made by these African-American women have never been heralded, but they deserve to be remembered—and not as a side note in someone else’s account, but as the center of their own story. These women should be celebrated not just because they are black or because they are women, but because they are an important part of American history.

This is their story.


Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden loved math. As children, they showed special skill in arithmetic, and they went on to study mathematics in college. After graduation they worked as teachers before going to work as computers, or mathematicians, for the government’s air and space program.

Over the years, hundreds of women worked as mathematicians for the federal agency called the NACA—the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics—which researched and promoted the study of flight. But these women were among many who distinguished themselves with their talents and hard work.

Dorothy Vaughan was a pioneer. She joined the NACA in 1943, the first year the agency began hiring African-American women as computers, and she was the first to be promoted into a management position. She was a role model for other women, and she helped to steer the careers of many talented women who were joining the NACA.

Mary Jackson was the first African-American woman to move up the ranks and become an engineer at the NACA. She was a fighter, standing up for herself and for other women who deserved the chance to prove themselves. Her work helped to make supersonic aircraft fly higher and faster.

Katherine Johnson was an African-American woman who became an essential member of the team that put the first American in orbit around Earth. She was a dreamer and an independent thinker who was unafraid to imagine what others considered to be impossible. She helped do the math that was required to send the first men into space—and to bring them home safely.

Christine Darden was an African-American woman who became one of the world’s leading experts on supersonic flight. She became the face of the next generation of female space scientists. Her groundbreaking research on predicting sonic booms is still used today.

The accomplishments of these four women were remarkable. But their work was even more impressive because it was achieved while living and working in the South during a time when racial discrimination was commonplace, and when most women with an interest in math were expected to become math teachers.

A Different Time

In the 1800s, after the Civil War, the government passed laws that ended slavery and granted full citizenship and voting rights to African Americans. Later, however, many state and local governments passed other laws that legalized racial segregation. These regulations, which were most common in the South, kept black people and white people apart in many situations.

They could not eat in the same restaurants.

They could not drink from the same water fountains.

They could not use the same restrooms.

They could not attend the same schools.

They could not ride in the same parts of buses.

They could not live in the same neighborhoods.

They could not receive care in the same hospitals.

They could not visit the same beaches.

They could not compete on the same sports teams.

They could not sit in the same sections in movie theaters.

They could not marry someone of a different race.

They could not even be buried in the same cemeteries.

Technically, African Americans had the right to vote. However, many local laws made it impossible for them to do so. Some communities levied, or charged, poll taxes, or enforced literacy requirements or imposed other restrictions that made it difficult or impossible for black people to register and vote. And since people who were not registered to vote weren’t allowed to serve on juries or run for political office, many African Americans were deprived of these civil rights as well.

During the 1930s, the United States experienced the Great Depression, a decade-long period of economic struggle. Jobs became difficult to find and wages decreased dramatically. All Americans suffered, but African Americans faced the most serious challenges in finding work.

For many African Americans, World War II was an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. Black men enlisted in the military in large numbers. Even though they served in separate black infantry regiments, usually overseen by white officers, they believed that their loyalty and patriotism would help blacks to earn rights that white citizens had. Women also enlisted in the army, where they were called WACs (for Women’s Army Corps), and they served in all-female units in the navy, too. And for women like Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, World War II opened the door to a career as a professional mathematician. Each of them found their way to the Langley Laboratory, where they met one another, and women like them: smart, brave, confident, and good at math. The war was changing the world, and it would change their lives as well.


The newspaper ad caught the attention of many women. It read: Reduce your household duties! Women who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and do jobs previously filled by men should call the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

A few years earlier, an ad like this would have been unthinkable—most employers never would have considered a woman for a job that had always been performed by a man. But in the spring of 1943, with World War II in full swing and many men off serving in the military, the country needed all the help it could get. Employers were beginning to hire women to do jobs that had once belonged only to men.

This particular ad was placed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a government agency dedicated to studying the science of flying. The NACA shared a campus with the US Army Air Corps in Hampton, Virginia, a city in the southeastern part of the state, next to the Chesapeake Bay.

The NACA’s mission was important and unique: to help the United States develop the most powerful and efficient airplanes in the world. Airplanes moved military troops, tracked enemies, and launched bombs. World leaders felt that the country that ruled the skies would win the war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed in the importance of air power, so two years earlier, in 1941, he had challenged the nation to increase its production of airplanes to fifty thousand units a year. At that time, the industry had manufactured only three thousand planes a year.

The NACA and private industry were up for the challenge. By 1943, the American aircraft industry was the largest, most productive, and most sophisticated in the world, making three times more planes than the Germans, who were fighting on the other side of the war.

Victory through Air Power!

Before manufacturers built the airplanes, the designs were developed, tested, and refined at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, which was where the NACA had first begun its operations, in 1917. The engineers created wind tunnels to simulate, or imitate, different conditions a plane could encounter when flying. This helped the engineers to test airplane parts as well as whole aircraft, examining them for any problems, like air disturbance and uneven wing geometry.

After that testing, pilots flew the planes, trying to assess how the machines handled in the air. Did the aircraft roll unexpectedly? Did it stall? Was it hard to guide or maneuver? Making small changes to the design added up to a difference in performance. Even tiny improvements in speed and efficiency multiplied over millions of pilot miles added to a difference that could tip the balance of the war.

People working at Langley knew that they were doing their part to win the war. Victory through air power! said Henry Reid, the engineer-in-charge of the Langley Laboratory. And the workers took their mission to heart.

WANTED: Female Mathematicians

Each of the engineers at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory required the support of a number of other workers: craftsmen to build the airplane models, mechanics to maintain the test tunnels, and number crunchers to process the data that was collected during the tests. For the engineers, a plane was basically a complex physics experiment. Physics is the science of matter, energy, and motion. Physics meant math, and math meant mathematicians. At the Langley Laboratory, mathematicians meant women.

Female mathematicians had been on the job at Langley since 1935. And it didn’t take long for the women to show that they were just as good or even better at computing than many of the male engineers. But few of the women were granted the title mathematician, which would have put them on equal footing with some male employees. Instead, they were classified as subprofessionals, a title that meant they could be paid less.

At Langley, the female mathematicians were called computers. They did the computations to turn the results of the raw data gathered by the engineers into a more useful form. Today we think of computers as machines, but in the 1940s, a computer was just someone whose job it was to do computations, a flesh-and-blood woman who was very good with numbers.

In 1943, it was difficult for the Langley Laboratory to find as many qualified women as they needed. A recruiter from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics visited colleges in search of young women with analytical or mathematical skills.

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Ce que les gens pensent de Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition

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Avis critiques

  • It is so refreshing to read about the women who made it all happen for space flight. This is truly "one giant leap for WOMENkind!" The author does a fantastic job painting a picture behind the four amazing women, or "human computers" who sent people like Neil Armstrong into space and to the moon. This is a tale of diversity, adversity, and how you really can grow up to achieve anything. It's a truly inspiring tale that I can't wait to read to my kids. I want my daughters to learn that there are truly powerful and inspiring women out there, and that they really can be whoever they want to be. This is a must read for sure!

    Scribd Editors
  • This is a fascinating account of the four "human computers" who did all the math to launch rockets, and humans, into space. And they did it all by hand! There were no fancy supercomputers clocking in equation after equation at the time. These women did good old fashioned work by breaking out the slide rule and notepad and working everything out that way. The contributions that these women made to science and to the world is truly incalculable. Without them and their wonderful brains, I'm positive that we'd be a few decades back in terms of space flight. This is a real interesting read and I strongly recommend it.

    Scribd Editors

Avis des lecteurs

  • (4/5)
    I read the young readers' edition to see how my students might react to the book. It is a worthy edition to the school library.
  • (5/5)
    An amazing book. Loved this! One of the best books!
  • (5/5)
    I loved it because of the people in the story. It talked about what the people did. I learned a lot about other things to!
  • (4/5)
    This was a good book, I liked it a lot.” ... If you have some great stories like this one, you can publish it on Novel Star, just submit your story to hardy@novelstar.top or joye@novelstar.top
  • (5/5)
    Quite interesting
    I have read it completely
    my hindi world
  • (5/5)
    It always amazes me when I come upon stories such as these – women basically lost to history. I had no idea about this cadre of women who worked for the nascent NASA. They were actually called computers; but in essence they were early engineers. They did this vital, valuable work and yet the credit fell on the men. How about that? The book singles out four women to profile – this is not historical fiction by the way – but it is the story of so many more women.Even though this is non-fiction the book reads like a novel. Ms. Shatterly introduces her heroines and the reader learns about these amazing women in the context of their time. Despite living in horribly restrictive times – as women and as women of color they break so many barriers. They still deal with being all of the other issues women are still dealing with today – motherhood, discrimination, men claiming their work. But this all happened at a time when blacks were still being relegated to separate bathrooms, water fountains, etc. In fact one of the issues was finding a building for them to work in so they wouldn’t “mix” with the white workers. It does make for some uncomfortable reading at times. As it should.I was utterly fascinated by the stories of the times, of the women, of the work they did and of how Ms. Shetterly wove it all together. I didn’t know about the movie when I chose to review the book but now I admit I’m looking forward to seeing it. It will add fictional elements of course but I’m sure it will be fascination. These women deserve to be celebrated and it is long overdue.
  • (4/5)
    This is one of those fascinating bits of history that blows the doors off of our iconic cultural images of how things happened. My visions of the space age, shaped by the presentation given by the media, were of rows of white men sitting at banks of computers smoking nervously as they sent more white men off into the unknown. I never saw images of other types of people there, so I assumed that they weren't. Given our history as a country and the current state of affairs with sexism and segregation at the time, it seemed a reasonable assumption.This book was incredibly eye-opening not only in alerting me to the presence, influence, and contributions of women and blacks to the accomplishments of NASA, but also as to how much work went into it that I simply had never considered as a layperson. It never would have crossed my mind that you would need rooms of people doing math prior to the existence of modern computers. Nor quite how much math it takes to get something up into the air much less into space. I knew it was a lot, but I didn't realize it was a metric fuckton.A fascinating read. I look forward to watching the movie next.
  • (5/5)
    A very important story. Endlessly inspirational and magical. The author effortlessly weaves in a compelling civil rights narrative with surprisingly fascinating mathematical prowess. And, she does so in a way that evokes interest in a field that most consider rote and monotonous. My interest was peaked in the field, as well as my admiration for the story of ethnic minorities rising above a system designed to be pitted against them. Most importantly, the theme of rising above what seems, and very well might have been, impossible is a narrative everyone can cherish.
  • (3/5)
    Very interesting, but a little dry at times. Though, it's well worth the read as it's very important to understand the trials of women and black people. It's also a very good historical overview of NACA/NASA.

    I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in math, aeronautics, race relations, etc.
  • (4/5)
    Good historical information; insightful perspective from African American woman, interesting development of NASA
  • (4/5)
    When I was younger, I had scrapbooks about the Apollo program. I sent my son to space camp, I followed so much about the race to space but I had never heard about these remarkable women. Hidden Figures tell the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who blazed the trail for others to follow in the fields of mathematics and engineering at NASA. There were many other women included in this book, but these were the main ones. This was a time of segregation, and there were no equal rights for women, let alone women of African American Heritage. In 1941 when so many men were gone to war, NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) began hiring women as female computers. These women did the work of mathematicians but were considered subprofessionals in order to be paid less. When the demand for more "computers" could not be satisfied with white women, Langley began recruiting women from All Black colleges. Eventually with time, the Space Race came into play and NACA was renamed NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Agency). It was amazing the important role these women played and they were not well known at all.

    Not only does this book focus on the role of the women, but it deals with the Civil Rights Movement. One of the biggest issues was integration of schools and universities and colleges. I had no idea that there was a five year period where there was no public education in Prince Edward County Virginia. At the beginning of their careers, the black mathematicians are forced to work on the west side of the Langley campus. They were referred to as "The West Computers" and many people did not even know that this unit existed. They had to use "coloured only" washrooms and sit at a segregated table in the cafeteria, until the 60s when integration finally happened. The only thing I disliked about this book, but others loved, was the amount of scientific details and facts. I enjoyed some of it, and much of it was necessary to the story, but I would have liked just a bit less. I am going to have to watch the movie.
  • (5/5)
    Really great story
  • (2/5)
    I love reading books about less commonly known people who contributed to the overall success of America. These amazing women, the unsung heroes of NASA, are just ordinary women doing extraordinary jobs. Let's back-track a bit. The Emancipation Proclamation filled the lives of all slaves and freedmen with hope for the future. The Civil War had ended less than 100 years earlier. Women got the vote in 1919. Yet despite these achievements, it's incredibly obvious that not enough has changed since then. Black people were still treated as inferior. It's sad that 1940's America still hadn't learned how to overcome the barriers of race AND gender. Americans were focused on winning the war, not quite focused on civil rights yet, but you know it's brewing. It's coming. It's a silent war that's about to erupt like a volcano.

    I'm disappointed with the style of the book. I was hoping for dialogue, a lot of it! I wanted to visualize these strong women, their plights, and their friendships, and their effectiveness as a group in the war effort. This book reads like a dry documentary. If I wanted a documentary, I'd turn on the television so I can listen to the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman.

    I read the prologue and the first six chapters (roughly 60 pages). I feel let down. I hope the movie is better than the book.
  • (5/5)
    Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race traces the women who worked first at NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, that later became NASA. Their work helped develop the planes that won World War II and the rockets that won the Space Race. In addition to tracing their scientific work, Shetterly examines the women’s lives in detail, discussing the educational opportunities they pursued in order to become mathematicians and engineers. Shetterly uses her subjects’ education and work as a case-study for desegregation in education and federal offices.Shetterly writes of postwar changes to federal offices, “Truman issued Executive Order 9980, sharpening the teeth of the wartime mandate that had helped bring West Area Computing into existence. The new law went further than the measure brought to life by A. Philip Randolph and President Roosevelt by making the heads of each federal department ‘personally responsible’ for maintaining a work environment free of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin” (pg. 104). Discussing the lines of segregation, Shetterly writes, “At Langley, the boundaries were fuzzier. Blacks were ghettoed into separate bathrooms, but they had also been given an unprecedented entrée into the professional world. Some of Goble’s colleagues were Yankees or foreigners who’d never so much as met a black person before arriving at Langley. Others were folks from the Deep South with calcified attitudes about racial mixing. It was all a part of the racial relations laboratory that was Langley, and it meant that both blacks and whites were treading new ground together” (pg. 123). Shetterly points out that Southern segregation limited options for both poor whites and African-Americans. She writes, “Throughout the South, municipalities maintained two parallel inefficient school systems, which gave the short end of the stick to the poorest whites as well as blacks. The cruelty of racial prejudice was so often accompanied by absurdity, a tangle of arbitrary rules and distinctions that subverted the shared interests of people who had been taught to see themselves as irreconcilably different” (pg. 145). Further, “As fantastical as America’s space ambitions might have seemed, sending a man into space was starting to feel like a straightforward task compared to putting black and white students together in the same Virginia classrooms” (pg. 185). In this way, “Virginia, a state with one of the highest concentrations of scientific talent in the world, led the nation in denying education to its youth” (pg. 204).Shetterly brilliantly juxtaposes both the promise of American ingenuity and the cultural place of the space race against the reality of Jim Crow and racial violence. All those looking to reconcile the paradox of America must read this book. This Easton Press edition is gorgeously leather-bound with gilt page edges and signed by the author. It makes a lovely gift for recent college or university graduates studying history.
  • (3/5)
    I absolutely loved the movie and couldn't wait to read the book. It is full of facts and important information, but I sometimes found myself getting confused about the people I was reading about and found I absorbed more information when I read it during the day as opposed to before bed. It is a book that would be a wonderful resource to someone researching the time period or any of the topics covered in the book. A non-fiction read that will provide a clear picture of what NACA and NASA were like during the 1940s-1970s and I learned a lot about the black women (and women in general) who contributed so much to the space program.
  • (4/5)
    Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly is a book not only about strong women but more. It is a book about society, struggles, overcoming prejudices, spirit, strong will, and brains. This is a history lesson for all of us not to repeat mistakes. This book follows a handful of smart and tough women as they work their way through a society rigged against them in every way until they get a small break and they let their brilliance shine. They deserved more credit then but society still wasn't ready and is it still? I wonder watching the news...I am glad they finally got some kind of recognition for their service and tenacity. You go girls!
  • (4/5)
    As you might expect, this book plays out over a substantially longer period than the film based on it, which focuses on the space race. Even before that, black female mathematicians had a place at Langley, and navigated that place and its boundaries in various professionalized ways, usually by passive resistance to things like table signs indicating where “colored girls” should sit. It’s a story of mostly quiet dignity, hard work, and love for numbers.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed this book, but often felt that the amount of extraneous information that was given was just too much. I didn't know what information I needed to uptake and recall as I continued to read, as opposed to being able to just read and not try to hold onto. This book resonates similarly to Radium Girls, though I felt Radium Girls kept me more eagerly turning pages.I love hearing about the American space program. These women left their fingerprints on the space program, just as men left their footprints on the moon. Their story is triumphant.
  • (4/5)
    I finished reading Hidden Figures this past weekend and saw the movie as well. This is the extraordinary true story of the obstacles and triumphs of a group of African-American women Mathematicians who made history and were essential in sending the first American astronauts into space. The author, Shetterly does an exceptional job and vividly depicts the lives of these exceptional women and what they faced and overcame. I stumbled upon this quote from the website The Root: “By celebrating these black female “human computers,” we give credit to the work of black women that has, like the achievements of black women in so many other fields, historically been ignored.”

    The book is well-written and Shetterly’s thorough research is evident and impressive, but it’s also quite technical and a bit slow at times. However, if you are a space nerd or engineer, you will love and appreciate how much work was put into it. Shetterly is a meticulous and talented writer who needs to be commended for bringing this incredible, untold story to the public. This is a great book for high school students (there is a young reader’s version as well). I highly recommend the movie to everyone, just keep in mind it's historical fiction. It’s a wonderful film that can be enjoyed by the entire family (my 12-year-old absolutely loved it).
  • (4/5)
    I wished that I read the book first before I watched the movie. The movie was such a well done adaptation of the book, when I read the book, it takes a little effort to adjust to the documentery style narration of the book. It is well written, just got threw off by the movie.
  • (3/5)
    The first time I read this book I got to 15% by which time the story had not gotten into the actual computing or what these women did. I decided to stop reading. Later I saw the movie and found it enjoyable and decided to try the book again to find out more about these women.

    The story is an excellent part of history that I had not known. I had read _Rise of the Rocket Girls_ about women computers at JPL and unmanned space flight in which one black woman was named, so I knew how the huge math portion of this work was accomplished. _Hidden Figures_ includes the additional hurdles faced by these women who overcame racism in their lives.

    The content of this book is superior in covering the individuals and groups of women and what they did as well as the people they worked with and those who inspired and assisted them. The final chapter tells some of what they did in later years to assist others in realizing their full potential.

    I gave a rating of 3, because I do not think the writing of the material was very good. The characters did not seem very rich. There was a lot about them, but prior to seeing the movie I had trouble keeping in mind who was who without more flesh on each of them. The story seemed to bounce around in a sort of disorganized way and I found it hard to follow the various story lines of each character as a result. Even so, I can recommend this book even to those who have seen the movie if a more realistic look at these women is desired. The movie was quite embellished regarding the relationship of the three main characters, at least according to what we see in the book.
  • (5/5)
    This is a great book. It is very information dense, and I felt like I took more time than I usually do to read it, but I didn't want to miss a thing. Ms. Shetterly clearly invested a lot of time in her research and it shows. Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Superficially, this book covers the same territory as The Rise of the Rocket Girls, published earlier the same year. Although the books both tell the story of women breaking into mathematics, engineering, and the space program, starting int the early 20th century, via the originally rather mundane role of "computers," in reality there's a very important difference. The Rocket Girls at what became NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were overwhelmingly white. Shetterly follows black women charting the same course at Langley, in Virginia, where in addition to facing the obstacles women faced simply for being women, the black women were also challenging institutionalized racism in one of the states where it was most entrenched. They had an opening because the demand for mathematicians who could do the work was so high that white men, especially in the WWII years, weren't available in the numbers needed. Holding on and moving ahead depended on their own talent and hard work, plus the persistence and resilience to overcome the discrimination.

    The women, both black and white, started out when the word "computer" meant a person doing the calculations by hand that were needed for astronomy, engineering, and other areas that needed high-level math in quantity and at speed. As it became one of the few jobs other than nursing or teaching that a woman of education could pursue, it attracted women of the same education and ability as many of the men who were being hired as engineers. That set up a dynamic that would play out over the years, as blacks both male and female, and women both black and white, began insisting on being recognized for their real contributions, and a percentage of it.

    Virginia law required that workplaces be segregated, so the black women hired as computers worked in a separate building that came to be known as West Computing. The white women were in East Computing.

    This book follows the stories of the women of West Computing, including Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, and West Computing itself from its earliest days with just twenty women, through the expansion during the war years and the space program. the women worked initially isolated at West Computing, but gradually began to work closely with various engineering groups, on airplane design, missiles, and eventually spacecraft and their guidance systems. Though it's now said they were known as "human computers," that's not quite right. The machines we now call early computers were late arrivals, here and everywhere else that the women known as computers worked. These women became the programmers of those machine computers, as the machines became reliable enough and powerful enough, and the engineers considered it beneath them.

    The women of West Computing struggled with both racism and sexism, but they were tough, smart, and persistent. As they more and more proved their value, increasing numbers of them became recognized as--and accorded the employment status of--mathematicians and engineers. In the 1950s and 1960s, Virginia resisted integration more than some other states, and even this federal facility had to work around that, but as time passed, individual computers and mathematicians became assigned permanently to the engineering groups they were working with most closely. When these women were from West Computing, that created a de facto integrated work group. It was a slow eating away at segregation, but it happened, whittling down the separate and segregated West Computing over years. Finally, when the Langley facility became part of NASA, segregation at all NASA facilities, and therefore West Computing, was abolished.

    We follow the personal lives of these women as well as their professional lives. The two interacted, as each was affected by World War II, the post-war years and the rising tension with the Soviet Union, and the growth of the space program and the space race. These women, along with their white counterparts at East Computing, and at JPL and elsewhere, were crucial to the success of the space program. It's a fascinating look at a corner of history that's generally overlooked, and it held my interest all the way through.

    Highly recommended.

    I bought this audiobook.
  • (2/5)
    I read this book because I enjoyed the movie so much. Unfortunately, the movie seems to have taken a Liberty Valance print-the-legend approach to the material, upping the drama by taking liberties with the facts. Shetterly sticks to the facts and outlines them in a dry, plodding and repetitive prose that made reading the book more than a bit of a chore. The subject matter remains a revelation and incredibly important, but I wish the reading experience could have been even partially as enjoyable as watching the film.
  • (4/5)
    I'm late to the party, but still enjoyed this book very much. The author really did her research and wrote the story about NACA/NASA's black female computers in a smooth and informative way. There was enough explanation without getting lost or over simplified to follow along what Katherine, Dorothy and Mary did at their jobs and the issues they faced living in the segregated south.
  • (4/5)
    I really wish I had read this before the movie. It is still worth reading for all the details that didn’t fit in the film. Shetterly tells the story in the same style as Boys in the Boat and Girls of Atomic City where it has multiple characters coming in and out of the story. Although I think her writing flows better than those other books, I still had to really be paying attention to remember each character’s details, especially since there are a lot of women named Dorothy! The whole book is inspiring, especially for someone who doesn’t know anything about engineering. In the acknowledgements Shetterly says “Hidden” isn’t the right term as much as “unseen.” Their patience and fortitude for this group of women to keep chipping away at the status quo is inspiring and again makes me realize that although we have a long way to go, we’ve come a long way.For my Longwood alum friends, Farmville shows up multiple times since a couple of the girls are from there...lived on High Street and went to segregated Moton School when it was falling apart. The student’s strike for a better school and the closing of Prince Edward schools are both mentioned.
  • (3/5)
    If you have seen the film, you may be disappointed by the book. In an attempt to describe the influence of women and blacks on the US aviation and space program the author gets lost in the details - to the point that the "story" doesn't flow clearly. This is an important story, but the book, for me, doesn't carry the message well.
  • (4/5)
    Loved the movie. Great book. As usual, the movie differs a bit from the book but not in a glaring way.
  • (4/5)
    A well-written history of the black women behind the visible men of NASA, their lives and contributions to American progress, and a clear case for the ways that structural racism and segregation has held that progress back.
  • (3/5)
    Great story and I loved learning about these women. I was just expecting more of a Narrative Nonfiction rather than the facts and figures I got.