New Release Review: Hidden Figures

Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden-figures-pb-cover-copySo, if you’re simply wondering whether I think this book is worth reading, and you’re interested in women’s history, civil rights, U.S. history, the space program, math, or computer science (which I should think covers most of us), I will save you some valuable reading time and say: yes, it is. Go get a copy of this book pronto, and don’t just rely on watching the movie. You’re going to want to know the facts behind the film.

But if that’s not enough for you, here’s my more detailed description and response: Hidden Figures tells the fascinating story of a group of “colored computers,” black women employed to do essential mathematical tasks in the development of air and space technology. During World War II, when employment opportunities were of necessity stretched beyond their normal limits, these brilliant, talented women got a toe in the door of the burgeoning military economy, even though they were segregated and often overlooked and undervalued. Shetterly focuses on four of them, though she believes that there were many more than even the available historical record shows. The story of their bravery, determination, and intelligence makes for some compelling and inspiring reading, as in our world today it becomes clear that the ugly prejudice that they had to fight against has by no means been conquered.

Not just a peek into an obscure, forgotten corner of our history, this is a subject that touches on so many important and relevant topics that it’s really essential for anyone who wants to know where we came from and where we are going. Shetterly expertly interweaves the personal stories of the women into the larger picture of social and technological change that took place during their era, an enormous upheaval that we still have to wrestle with. She didn’t conduct her research just in dusty archival records; she actually knew some of the women growing up, as her parents moved within some of the same circles, and this helps bring them closer to us.

tlc logoIn spite of that personal connection, Shetterly generally writes in a calm, measured third-person style, describing rather than dramatizing the incidents of her narrative, though she occasionally inserts some stirring and passionate commentary. She also has a tendency to use flowery similes that I found unnecessary and distracting, but mercifully these were few and far between. It’s going to be interesting to see how the book is turned into a film, since there is almost no dialogue given; much will have to be invented. For that reason, if you’re interested in historical accuracy I definitely recommend the book to ground you in reality, although the dramatic potential of the story on screen is certainly irresistible.

However you experience it, Hidden Figures is a story that definitely deserves to come to light. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Official publisher link from HarperCollins

Copy gratefully received for review from TLC Book Tours – click here for more stops on the tour



27 thoughts on “New Release Review: Hidden Figures

  1. I so want to read this book! (And watch the movie, too.) Such a fascinating time and story. Now if only people would stop putting it on hold at my library. 🙂


    1. From what I’ve seen of the trailer, it’s definitely been given a Hollywood twist, so it’s good to have the book to refer to for more in-depth information.


  2. This book sounds fantastic. I had no idea of the role of African American female mathematicians in the early space program–I’m sure to be inspired and impressed. Thanks for a great review.


  3. I definitely prefer the book to the movie whenever possible. I read so little non-fiction (to my shame!) but am always pleased when I do. I will put this on my list because it sounds great.


  4. I am so glad that you enjoyed this read. Like I mentioned in my other comment, my daughter-in-law and I may do a buddy read for this. It sounds like a book that would hold both of our interests. She sometimes resists books that are more historic, but this one has been calling to her, which makes me very happy. 🙂


  5. As a more-fiction-than-nonfiction reader, I really enjoyed the language in this one; it added to, rather than detracted, from my reading experiences (I quoted some of the similies in my review)! Maybe if I read more non-fiction, I’d’ve found them problematic too. In all, this is one of my favourite reads of 2016!


    1. I probably shouldn’t even have said that because it wasn’t a huge problem — more a matter of personal taste. I agree that it was written in a compelling narrative style, which would appeal to readers who mostly enjoy fiction.


  6. I think this is a great story but a horribly written book. It didn’t flow well and it was like reading a documentary. Just awful.


    1. I can see what you mean, though it didn’t bother me so much. In the hands of another writer it could have had more narrative flow and been less documentary-like.


      1. I guess I wanted it to read more like historical fiction rather than non fiction. I wanted to be immersed in their lives and it was just to “clinical” – only word coming to mind to describe it


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