Review: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space RaceHidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Margot Lee Shetterly‘s book Hidden Figures really knocked my socks off. But it wasn’t the writing that got me. No, I was amazed that I’d never heard this story before now since I’ve spent my life in, and around, science and technology.

Which, of course, is both the point of the book and the power of stories. Shetterly’s narrative is stripped down, focusing mostly on the lives of the NACA (which becomes NASA) computers, mostly women mathematicians who worked with all-male engineering corps.

But Hidden Figures never really settles on a theme: Is this a book about overcoming racism? or sexism? or classism? The story bounces through each of those areas, touching lightly on them, but staying away from the kind of narrative exposition that explores what those issues mean to the author.

And I can’t really fault Shetterly’s story for that because America has never really settled on a theme either. We can’t readily and rightfully parse out the impact of how each of those elements influenced the world. Instead, she lets the story of the black women who – despite their backgrounds – found their way into the world of aeronautics unfold in front of the reader. And I suspect each reader will see that story from very different lenses.

What has stayed with me in the days since I finished this book is this: Hidden Figures is another reminder that we are better at solving problems when we have more seats at the table.

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