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Hidden Figures
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September 2019: Cultural > Hidden Figures, by Margo Lee Shetterly, 3.5 stars

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message 1: by NancyJ (last edited Sep 14, 2019 01:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 4895 comments This is an inspiring book about black female "computers" (with math degrees) who worked for NASA. This non-fiction book isn't as entertaining as the movie, but it contains a lot more information about the people, math, engineering, the space program, and how to build a powerful career despite discriminatory obstacles. Three women were featured in the film, but the author estimates that the organization may have hired hundred(s?) of black women in math and science jobs over the decades (even before it was NASA). Women were primarily stuck in paraprofessional jobs back then. It was a lot harder to get the title of mathematician or engineer.

These women felt that they had to work twice as hard to get half as far, which is a phrase I heard a lot when I was young too. They were also very smart, and took the initiative to figure out what was needed. Dorothy Vaughan practically created a computer programming department by taking the initiative to learn how to use and program the huge IBM mainframe when it was delivered. She knew that the machine could make her department of human computers obsolete otherwise.

One of the women in my bookclub read the abridged young adult version of the book, and she recommends it. It would be good for girls, parents, or grandparents of girls who might have some math or tech skills. Too many girls and young women screen themselves out of a STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Math) career at a very young age. They need encouragement to fight the stereotypes about women and math. There are a lot of programs designed by college and tech companies to fuel their interests. 7th grade seems to be a crucial year for girls and math. (I was good at math and programming in college, but I changed my major after an interesting summer job. I still sometimes wonder about the road not taken.)

I want to bump my rating to 4 stars (and I still might), because it really does contain some interesting information and inspiring true stories. My initial rating was 3 stars just because it was a real chore to read. I had a high level of interest in many of the topics, but there were too many details to slog through to get to the good stuff. I really liked the epilogue because it summarized and updated some information that is relevant to my work.

Most of the women in my bookclub liked the movie more than the book. The most common complaint was that it was hard to keep the characters straight in the book due to the way it was written. I found it helpful to watch part of the movie after I started the book, just to help me to match up the names and faces, with their early lives, and eventual jobs.

Jason Oliver | 2063 comments I rated the book 3 stars. I love the story and history, but it was presented in such a dry and impersonal manner. I've read some other "women's history" books that had the same feel. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars A wonderful story that needs to be told but is not told in an engaging way. This is why I like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It became a personal story also.

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