#CBR8 Review #141

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

I saw a movie trailer for Hidden Figures a few months ago and FREAKED OUT. I believe that African-American representation and history is important to the American story. BUT, when those stories are so often reduced to two experiences—slavery and Civil Rights—we get an incomplete story. We need art that’s more inclusive and less reductive. I very much hope that Hidden Figures as a film can be that art. But in the meantime, I discovered there was a book and devoured it in a few days.

NASA kicked off in earnest during World War II and continued through a glorious space age. During its earlier years, men were fighting in the war in Europe and the Pacific. There weren’t men to work at white-collar or blue-collar jobs. So, section heads did what they needed to—they recruited women. And, in fact, some of the recruits who were doing highly abstract math, physics, and engineering were black. The fact that this was a frequent occurrence, concomitant to Jim Crow laws still in place, is astonishing—because it was never public information. The author herself admitted to being aghast when *she* first heard the stories from her father, who worked at NASA. We follow several of the women, including Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson (whom John Glenn entrusted with his flight and no one else). Each of them contributed, in a small but significant way, to the cracking of the glass ceiling and racial barriers that are still being dismantled today.

This book is essential reading, both in a history class, and on your leisure time. This book shows the importance of understanding a variety of perspectives and experiences. If you want to read a book about African-American experience beyond slavery or the Civil Rights movement, this book is just what you need. It’s inspiring and smart and thought-provoking at the same time. And despite dealing with complex subjects, it is readable and human in its approach.

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