Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Hidden Figures

Rate this book
The uplifting, amazing true story—a New York Times bestseller

This edition of Margot Lee Shetterly’s acclaimed book is perfect for young readers. It is the powerful story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Now a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.

240 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Margot Lee Shetterly

5 books508 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
4,590 (27%)
4 stars
6,328 (37%)
3 stars
4,282 (25%)
2 stars
1,184 (7%)
1 star
411 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,297 reviews
Profile Image for Susie.
1,584 reviews21 followers
January 9, 2017
I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is one case where I think it would be beneficial to see the movie version first. The film is full of so much charm as it tells the story of the African-American women who were an important part of NACA, later NASA. The book is much more dry, but if you have seen the film, you will have a much better understanding of the situations that Shetterly describes. Actually, she does a nice job of describing some of the physics and mathematics involved. I am certain that many of my students are unaware of the many of the situations and events that took place (even including the Soap Box Derby near the end) It does a nice job of incorporating important events in the Civil Rights movement and personalizing them through the individuals in the book.

After reading this book (and I am about to start immediately on the adult version), I have an appreciation for a little of the artistic license taken by the film.

The writing is fairly basic (few complex sentences), and there were a few typos (omitted punctuation, a misspelled 'Glen'), but this would be very accessible for elementary students and up.
Profile Image for Alysia.
59 reviews7 followers
October 2, 2020
When the ads for Hidden Figures came out last year I was ecstatic. Not only did the movie look great and have a spectacular story to tell, the headliners were black women! I hadn’t seen the movie before starting the book, but I was excited anyway. I’m sorry to say I was disappointed. Very disappointed, in fact.

I don’t think Shetterly grasped the concept of storytelling. Just because a book is non-fiction doesn’t stop it from being a book. There still has to be elements of style and flow in it. Hidden Figures felt like I was reading a textbook from high school. It was sentence after sentence of information dumps about NACA’s history, the women, their kids, civil rights, and anything else Shetterly thought she could cram in there. I 100% appreciate that this book picked up so much traction and brought attention to these women and the work they did, but I wish the book was written more like a book, and less like a research paper.

The book did give out some fun facts about the women and how incredibly gifted they were, but it wasn’t enough to help slough through the passages about Mach 5 and theoretical physics. At 265 pages this book took as much effort as Chronicle of the Murdered House which clocked in at about 600.

Hidden Figures was the first book for my ONTD Reading Challenge and I’m just glad it’s over. All the technical talk and lack of personality dragged on for some time. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you personally have a love for engineering or space travel.

321 reviews3 followers
February 10, 2017
I had huge hopes for this book.

Women in science, women in math is such an important topic; so important that one should go beyond expectations.

This books does such deservice to all young, budding, bright girls, and to all women who worked hard,inspired one another and persevered in a world set against them.

This books reads like a catalog, a fact-stuffed wiki page. It is horrible, just horrible. What a shame.
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,153 reviews194 followers
May 6, 2022
What an inspiring story!

Young readers will have the chance to meet some amazing women, known as "computers", who played a pivotal role in aircraft design and in the huge task of figuring out how to place a capsule into orbit and how to return it safely to Earth. They also had to deal with segregation, racism and proving they were capable to do such important work.

An interesting note: the author knew these women, growing up in Hampton, Virginia, as her scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, neighbors and parents of her schoolmates, but didn't understand the importance of their work until she researched them. -- Louisa A.
Profile Image for Kelly.
380 reviews26 followers
March 15, 2017
Had to give this three because even though I absolutely loved the story and find the arcs of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson incredibly inspiring, the format and flow of the book made it hard to follow. I frequently had a difficult time remembering which characters had which distinctions, and also keeping the timeline straight. However, the content itself is important and truly hidden from our collective history, so I'm happy to have read and begun to appreciate how amazing these women were in shaping change in both science and society.
Profile Image for DeAnna Knippling.
Author 161 books255 followers
April 9, 2017
Fabulous. I know some readers are upset that this book doesn't have a novel- or movie-type plot with a main character and all end neatly tied up--but hey. That's life. I thoroughly enjoyed both the details and attitude here. But please do keep in mind that this isn't a biography, but a history.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,128 reviews34.9k followers
March 24, 2017
3.5 stars

Back before Mega computers that did everything for us, there was a group of women (Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden) who answered the call by NASA to become “human computers” who used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. These highly intelligent mathematicians made it possible for NASA achieve their greatest accomplishments in space. They did this during a time of segregation. They gave up their jobs as teachers to help their county get into space. This book spans from WWII, the cold war and the civil rights movement.

I pushed through the book. I did skim through some of it and agree with the others that some of the storytelling was boarding on academic at times. I think I was able to get through those parts because I saw the movie first.

What I liked was that the women were modest in their achievements. They really paved the way but did so in a quiet fashion. I really felt this book was about many things: girl power, facing challenges, the space age, NASA, segregation, tenacity, perseverance, strength, and the success of these strong intelligent women.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for Ian.
1,336 reviews188 followers
August 13, 2018
Dorothy Vaughan
Mary Jackson
Katherine Johnson
Christine Darden
and the many other African American women who worked for NASA.

I honor you.

To women in general and especially women of colour working in science, engineering and math.

I honor you.
Profile Image for Margie.
441 reviews
March 27, 2017
I listened to the audio version of this book - the first part was a little slow and boring with a lot of background info of NACA, but I really enjoyed it afterwards when it got into the ladies' early lives and how they were hired at Langley. As expected, these women put up with a LOT of discrimination because they were African-American, but also because they were women going into a "mens" field of work.

I learned a lot about the air and space program that I had not known before. I'm so impressed with the "computers" and how they calculated all of the scenarios of flights and space missions. I would like to see the movie as well.
Profile Image for human.
628 reviews933 followers
September 14, 2020

It tells the story of important women who were (mostly) forgotten, and though it is quite interesting, it reads almost like a textbook.
Profile Image for Bea .
1,951 reviews138 followers
January 11, 2018
3.5 stars Review To Come

Very, very dry at times; full of scientific and sociological detail. The science stuff tended to make my eyes glaze but the sociological aspects were fascinating, saddening, and inspiring. It really brought home the advantages I have as a white woman. It was also interesting to see how international relations and PR affected the US's desegregation policy. And very little of the material in this both was covered in any of my history classes in high school or college. That is truly unfortunate. Even today, there aren't a lot of women or black people who are known for their math or scientific prowess. We tend to hear about the men or the white people but they only part of the story.

While the material was dry, Shetterly certainly did her research and there's an extensive section at the book with notes and bibliographies. I would have liked photographs, both of the people and the various spaces, but it sounded like there was a lack of photos or various reasons.

I saw the movie first, which was a mixed blessing. It streamlined the info and worked it into an engaging story, not just a history. But it changed around the order of some events and sped up the timeline. Still, I think this is a rare case where seeing the movie first helps make it easier to read and understand the book. Also, now I want to see the movie again.

I wouldn't call Hidden Figures gripping but it was fascinating and often eye-opening. Thank you Ms Shetterly for bringing light to some important people and aspects of our history. I respect the hell out of the women in this book and they deserve every kudos.
Profile Image for Glitterbomb.
204 reviews
January 9, 2018
This is a very inspirational story about a special group of women, who were integral to seeing America into space.

I found the book to be rather dry, there wasn't much of a story, just a whole bunch of facts laid out in a timeline. It made for a rather cumbersome read.

3 stars
Profile Image for Mitch Karunaratne.
366 reviews32 followers
November 8, 2019
Wow - sooo different from the film! The book really digs deep in to the history of technology, the process of math and racism as well as the home and professional lives of the female, black,"computers". I was truly in awe of these women - driven, intelligent women - who let their creative brains fill with possibilities in a world that really didn't nurture, support or even want to allow that to happen. They were amazing in their professional fields, inspiring in their capacity to lead themselves, their community and their families. The author's close connection to this community really shines in a well written, complex look at the central contribution these women had on the fields of math and engineering.
Profile Image for My_Strange_Reading.
505 reviews82 followers
December 28, 2018
#mystrangereading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly ⭐️⭐️⭐️ I also don't know where THIS review went! Ugh. I read this book this summer and enjoyed it. It was fufulling No. 16 of #my2018strangepanzanellareadingchallenge A BOOK WHERE YOU SAW THE MOVIE FIRST, and although the topic was so important and I found the content very rich, I also really enjoyed this film more than the book. I think I felt the movie did a great job of capturing the heart of these courageous women's struggles and triumphs and the book it wore me down with a lot of detail and jargon that I didn't really care about in the long run.
Profile Image for Sofia.
6 reviews3 followers
February 6, 2017
I was so eager to read this book, the story had so much potential but the book lacks storytelling from the first chapter. I am disappointed.
Profile Image for Carola.
411 reviews25 followers
January 28, 2022
I thought this book would be a roman like the movie, however it was summary of facts unfortunately.
Profile Image for Valentina.
10 reviews8 followers
December 6, 2017
I won't lie, I decided to read this based on how much I enjoyed the movie that came out last year. Although I myself am neither Black nor an engineer, the film version of these legends touched me, to say the least; I can only imagine how the journeys of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson would move Black communities everywhere. After remembering that the movie was based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, I downloaded it to my Kindle and began reading — in part because storytelling in books vs. film has always fascinated me, and in part because the tales of the hidden figures are ones that don't deserve to sit on the shelf to gather dust.

While the film focuses almost entirely on the three women I mentioned above within a comfortable narrative structure, Shetterly's work provides the realistic timeline of the struggles Black women faced as NACA/NASA employees. Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson all feature heavily in the book but they are certainly not the only ones profiled, meaning readers receive a rich understanding of the West Computers as a whole phenomenon along with the achievements of the individuals. History naturally guides the narrative along, intertwining the ups and downs of the singular person, the community, and the nation as the drive to reach space increases with each passing year post-WWII.

For those who saw the film first, be prepared for a lot of details that were necessarily condensed for the purposes of the silver screen. Unfortunately, one of the greatest strengths of the movie — the particular emphasis on Black female friendship between Johnson, Jackson, and Vaughn — is not illustrated to the same extent in Shetterly's detailed portrait. The author occasionally struggles to portray the humanity that is so easily shown onscreen, especially with the beginning half of the book being so focused on the industrial developments of the NACA. That being said, Shetterly explicitly discusses the friendships between the Black women and the Black communities in Hampton, Virginia, and exquisitely flows between the perspective of the individual to the perspective of the nation and back again. The novel's end is especially strong in this respect, both due to the events that occur at that point in the historical timeline as well as the reader's familiarity with the people being written about.

As someone who is not a space expert (or even the slightest talented at math beyond algebra), I found the lingo to be dense, sometimes to the point where it was smarter to skip ahead a sentence or two than try to understand what advanced aeronautical vocabulary. However, that is the nature of the biography of these women whose careers were hugely defining for themselves and for US history. Shetterly is careful not to overwhelm the reader with too much technical jargon, and executes great transitions from the nitty-gritty details to the emotional connections.

These techniques open up the world of NACA's inner workings (professionally and politically) to an audience who might have never glanced at it to begin with. Shetterly's style celebrates the incredible accomplishments of the West Computers and beyond while remaining grounded to the cruel realities racism and segregation enforced on them. Her precision in storytelling reflects the figures she so meticulously describes, making "Hidden Figures" a work worthy of the legends it commemorates.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,152 reviews447 followers
July 19, 2018
This is an excellent abridgment of the original book. I highly recommend it as an inspiration to excel in the areas of math and science. So glad we have all been made more aware of the contributions so many made to our aeronautics endeavors from behind the scenes.
Profile Image for Kendra.
596 reviews31 followers
October 11, 2017
Five stars for the story and these women. I found the narrative a bit draggy at times, but overall a well worth it read.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
180 reviews
October 23, 2017
Great story. I knew women worked in programming long before it became a "man's field" but it was interesting to hear about it in more detail. It was also interesting to hear how these women each had their own way of paving the road for future generations. One of my favorite parts is when John Glen said the last thing he needed to be comfortable with going into space was to have Katherine Johnson check the math one more time. What a great compliment to her skill and talents!
Profile Image for Susan.
152 reviews1 follower
January 1, 2017
This book pulled me in almost immediately. While there are lots of names and details, knowing a bit about how the story would unfold kept me going. The extent of the segregation and the achievements that have not been known as far and wide as they should be until now was eye opening. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the movie even though I know it can't live up to the details in the book that I found so engrossing.
Profile Image for Megan.
51 reviews3 followers
May 13, 2017
Don't get me wrong, these women are amazing and inspiring and their stories need to be told. However the book was fact, fact, fact, with a lack of a fluid, engaging storyline. In the textbook-like recording of their lives, it is missing a little life, pizazz, spirit. Make no mistake though, it is a good thing that this history is thoroughly preserved.
Profile Image for Lauren Waters.
303 reviews5 followers
June 9, 2017
This is such an inspiring story of incredible people. I loved reading and learning about the powerful women that worked as human computers during U.S. space exploration. The author also included descriptions of historically significant events with civil rights, gender equality in the workplace and conflicts with Russia.
Profile Image for Colleen.
659 reviews110 followers
April 2, 2017
2 Stars

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race was my bookclub's selection for March. I was excited to read it. I first heard about NASA's "human computers" a few years ago on Women's Day, so I was excited to learn more about these overlooked historical figures. The hold list at the library was very long, so I requested every format they had (book, ebook, large print, audio book) hoping to get one in time. Unfortunately, the only one that arrived in time turned out to be this "Young Readers Edition."

The "Young Readers Edition" is supposedly aimed at middleschoolers, but given the painfully overly simplified writing, I would consider it maybe third grade level. This version assumes the reader has never had a single history lesson and knows nothing about American History, WWII, civil rights, or the space race. Even if I had read this at the targeted age, I am certain I still would have been bored. Which is a shame because these women do deserve recognition, they just don't get much of it through this book. One of the women is barely even mentioned.

The book supposedly follows the story of four women working in the mathematics field in the 40's - 60's and their impact on their field. However, I would estimate that maybe one third of the book is actually about them. Most of it is background information. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but this book is not at all what it was advertised as. Mostly, it went off on huge tangents talking about history then halfheartedly tried to tie those into the story with throwaway lines such as "and so-and-so read about those events in the newspaper." Sadly, by the end I can't say that I learned anything about these women. The small parts about them were dropped in randomly. Mostly, it just goes over the bare facts of their lives. The narrative never came alive, and there was no emotional component. In trying to reduce the reading level, it seems the author reduced the quality of writing as well, because this felt like a long-winded book report written by a middleschooler. The amount of exclamation points used in this book was ridiculous. I've never read a biography with so many exclamation points. I expected this book to make me cry. Instead, the only reason I managed to finish it was because it was for bookclub.

I'd like to think much of these complaints can be laid on the total rewrite that the author did for the YA version, but from everyone's comments at our bookclub meeting, the adult version suffered the same pitfalls. That version apparently does not discuss the women much either and goes off onto long tangents about various historical events. Upon finishing this version, I debated reading the adult version too so I could directly compare them but in the end decided it was not worth it. From the sound of it, the only difference is that the adult version has a ton of technical jargon.

Not only was the content disappointing, I was off-put by the author's tone. Rather than focusing on the inspirational side of the story, she spend a lot of time being negative. A lot of it is in between the lines, so at first I thought I was overreacting, but it seemed more and more pointed as the book went on. It makes broad racial assumptions. Whether you are saying something good or something bad, it is never ok to say that ALL of one race, nationality, gender, etc felt the same thing or acted the same way. That only perpetuates an "Us versus Them" attitude. But Shetterly repeatedly lumps all people into strict racial categories. For example, "African Americans were sympathetic to the needs of oppressed people around the world. They shared in the horror when they learned about the acts of the Germans against their Jewish citizens," and, "African Americans were loyal to their country. They had a deep and abiding belief in the possibility of democracy." These seem like positive statements on the surface, but as I mentioned, you can never say an entire people thought or did the same thing.

The other part of Shetterly's in-between-the-lines point was her dehumanizing of other races. She may have been trying to emphasize the segregation, but it seems very pointed that other than large historical figures (such as presidents, political leaders, civil rights activists, etc.), anyone who was not African American was referred to only by their title. The engineer, the governor, the manager, and so on. These titles were often linked with the announcement of their race such as "the mechanic, a white man" and "two white women, the West Computing section head and her assistant." By my notes, there were only two white people who had direct contact with the main characters whose names were told rather than just being referred to by their race and job title. Those would be Ted Skopinski, a helpful engineer, and Emma Jean, a colleague. And these are barely blips on the radar. Emma Jean is referred to as a "white colleague" before finally saying her name at the end of the paragraph. It makes it worse that this book was targeted to young children yet fails to provide inspiration. Yes, these women deserved to have their story told. Yes, young girls should get more encouragement to consider STEM careers. Does this book achieve either of those results? Not really. And I am suspicious of any book that gets its movie rights sold before the book is even finished. If this hadn't been immediately turned into a movie, I doubt anyone would be talking about this book, because it does not stand on its own in terms of merit.

Overall, this book was not engaging or emotional or even that educational. I would not recommend it to anyone. It was a complete disappointment.

Ease of Reading: 3 Stars
Writing Style: 2 Stars
Character Development: 1 Star
Attention to Details: 2 Stars
Emotional Level: 1 Star
Plot Structure and Development: 1 Star
3 reviews5 followers
December 18, 2017
The book Hidden Figures is a great book. It is based on a true story that no one really knows about. The book show the trouble that colored people have to go throw by white people and this book goes a little deeper this book show what four black women go through and how those four women help us in one of the biggest things that has happened in a country at that time. And how it took so long for them to be equal. It shows that little girls and boys that went throw all this, just to do what they love and to live a everyday life. This book is middle age readers and it gets right to it. Hidden Figures helped me to appreciate the little things in life and that just because you may look different, we are all the same inside. I am in love with this book every night I could not put it down. I recommend this book to all ages, even if it’s a easier read. I would love to see more people read this book.
Profile Image for Royce B.
55 reviews2 followers
December 13, 2017
This book was good. It was historical and scientific dealing with NACA and NASA. The reading age would probably be 5th grade and up because the words are a little difficult. Women are working at NACA as human computers and eventually move to NASA. How does technology evolve? Read the book to find out!!!
Profile Image for Layla.
12 reviews3 followers
July 14, 2019
I kind of expected this book to be somewhat like the movie, but when I read this book I figured it was like a biography. But even if it isn't what I expected I still love this book.👍
Profile Image for Dana Durusu.
57 reviews3 followers
April 25, 2017
Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three of the African American women who helped NASA put the first man on the moon behind. These women worked as "human computers" and helped resolve problems for NASA's engineers. However, during the first years of their employment with NASA the company was still segregated and women were looked down upon, so these women suffered a lot of unfair treatment while working there. This book gives an interesting perspective on segregation and racism and will interest students who are more STEM inclined. It is rare that African American women are considered when thinking about the first trip to the moon, so this also gives students a chance to broaden their own perspectives on what it means to be a scientist.
Before reading the book with my class, I would give them a "Burning Questions"-esque anticipation guide. I would give them a short overview of what the book is about and have them write down three questions they want to know by the time they finish the book. Then, as they read, they will write down the answers to their questions. If there is a question they asked that was not answered in the book, I would have them do some research and find an answer for themselves.
Profile Image for Hannah R..
20 reviews3 followers
January 25, 2018
It was an overall good book, if you like math and science you would probably like that. I definitely recommend the book to everyone
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,297 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.