Book Review: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Book Review: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I changed what I could, and what I couldn’t, I endured.”

I’m a former history teacher, and yet I still somehow didn’t realize how large a role racism and segregation played in the Cold War. When I watched the movie inspired by this book with an American History class I was temporarily teaching, my eyes were opened to just how little I knew about the Cold War and Civil Rights eras, and how the two were so deeply entwined. I’m thankful for the information; I just wish I had realized it sooner. After having read the book as well, I have a new appreciation for the story overall, but also for the title of the book. I love anything with a dual meaning, and both the math behind these amazing advancement and the women who calculated them were indeed hidden figures.

“Their dark skin, their gender, their economic status–none of those were acceptable excuses for not giving the fullest rein to their imaginations and ambitions.”

I have so much respect for the women whose stories were so lovingly told through this book. They held themselves with such aplomb, when so many people would’ve been happy to watch them fail. Everything that both women and people of color had to put up with and endeavor to overcome during this period is infuriating, but the ways in which they rose to the challenge again and again was more than inspirational. I know that without their quiet determination and refusal to bow to pressure and make easier decisions, today’s Americans who share their gender or skin color or both would have fewer rights than we enjoy today.

“Women, on the other hand, had to wield their intellects like a scythe, hacking away against the stubborn underbrush of low expectations.”

I’m glad to have read this book, because it shed so much more light on the women whose stories I came to know through the movie. However, I have to confess that I enjoyed the movie more, as I was able to develop more of an emotional connection to the women through that format. This preference is solely subjective; I’m just not a big nonfiction reader, and rarely develop deep emotional ties to works that aren’t fictional. I probably would’ve left my experience with Hidden Figures strictly to my consumption of the film if it wasn’t for my desire to read this year’s Hugo Award Winner: The Calculating Stars, which was surely inspired in large part by this powerful true story. I can’t wait to read The Calculating Stars, and I’m even more excited about it after having read Hidden Figures. I highly recommend this work of nonfiction to anyone interested in learning more about the women whose supporting roles in the sciences prepared the way for every girl who has ever been interested in STEM subjects, and for those who want to see the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War from a fresh perspective.

You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!

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