The Popsugar challenge wanted me to read a book of a film I’ve already seen and Hidden Figures ended up to be a great choice because it has so much more scope than the film it inspired. If for some reason it has passed you by, this is the story of the black women who worked as NASA mathematicians or “computers” during the space race.
I changed what I could, and what I couldn’t, I endured.
Actually as the book opens, NASA doesn’t exist yet. Instead there was NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and the women were employed as part of the war effort. It focuses mostly on Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson but also acknowledges the many other women who were involved in the early days of NASA’s achievements.
It’s obvious that the film condenses the timeline and focuses on the space race, whilst in reality the events happened much further apart. By the time they were working on the Mercury project, Katherine was ignoring the segregated toilets (and the toilet issue is only briefly mentioned in the book but I can understand why it was used as a way to show the unfairness of segregation).
Virginia, a state with one of the highest concentrations of scientific talent in the world, led the nation in denying education to its youth.
What I found the most interesting about the book is how it interweaves the social change of the time. These three woman lived with prejudice in daily life and Virginia seemed to be particularly dragging its heels despite the situation at Langley.
It’s crazy to imagine that there was this huge drive for women mathematicians from the 1940’s and now there is a the struggle to get and keep women working in STEM. Maybe if these talented women were celebrated earlier, things could have been different.
Sometimes, she knew, the most important battles for dignity, pride, and progress were fought with the simplest of actions.
If you’ve seen the film and were left wanting to know more, I’d definitely recommend the book.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 1. A book made into a movie you’ve already seen
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