Hidden Figures: Margot Lee Shetterly


This is a book I read at the beginning of the year, but the review has languished in my Drafts folder for some unknown reason. Discovered this as part of Christmas cleanup and putting it out to the world.

In 1961, Russia sends Yuri Gagarin to space, getting quite ahead in the space race between it and America. There is pressure on NASA, and key to helping it deliver are the human computers, a group of women who performed complex mathematical calculations for the engineers and others in NASA. These women were segregated from the men in the early parts of their careers, and were rarely credited for their work in scientific publications or promoted into more prestigious engineering roles. Yet they powered on, with a mix of intelligence and assertiveness, to become invaluable to the space program.

The movie focuses on three pioneering black women, and the book focuses on them as well, but talks about many more women who were instrumental in sending the first American to space. For those who loved the movie and wanted to learn more about the women and their contributions, the book is the perfect reference. Shetterley’s research is detailed, and her writing brings out the difficulties the women had to face, and the complexities of the era, with racial and gender segregation in force. An important book for anyone who wants to understand the different flavors feminism can take, and the power of enterprising and able women.