Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hidden Figures: Once you took the first step, anything was possible

By now, you've heard of Hidden Figures. Because I'm getting around to writing this way after the book came out and the movie came out.

If you've not heard of it then I commend you for the rock you've been under. It's terrifying up here and might there be space for one more?

Anyway, back to the book, which focuses on the black, female mathematicians and engineers that are responsible for so much, not just helping put people on the moon (but there is that, and it's pretty impressive) but the smaller projects are all manner of flight. As Shetterly says
What I wanted was [for these women] to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic.
And this she does, setting the stage for Langley from the '40s through the Apollo missions and highlighting the work the women did, and the struggles they faced.

The book focuses on more than just the three women in the movie, though they have the largest parts. There's less drama than the movie (no one violently smashes the sign above the bathroom that says "colored") and a lot more math, which I found to not be an issue because I just skimmed over it. I'm sure an engineer would be THRILLED to go over the specifics of whatever air displacement problem or I-can't-think-of-another-sciencey-sounding-example they had to tackle, but I chose to trust the math was correct and move on.

Because the book can be a little slow at times. There's not really a story arc here (it is non-fiction after all) but at times just seems like it is listing out the events that happened or what was going on. I had some trouble keeping the different women straight and I mentioned all the math above. But overall, these didn't really bother me. I didn't pick this up assuming it was going to have a straight narrative like the movie (which I saw after reading it) and I don't have an issue skimming when we seem to be getting in the weeds.

One thing that may have helped keep me engaged is the fact that my grandfather worked at Langley on-and-off throughout the time period this book covers, though not working in the same areas. At least not to the best of my knowledge and sadly he passed long before this movie came out, so I can't ask him about it, although I would have loved to be able to.

Not a perfect book and yeah, I liked the movie better from a story perspective, but still an interesting read about an important topic that shouldn't be overlooked.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 246

Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space. Harper Collins, 2016. Kindle