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Hidden Figures Book Summary

The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures

The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Margot Lee Shetterly


Hidden Figures tells the incredible true story of the African American women mathematicians at NASA who played a crucial role in the success of the U.S. space program. These ‘human computers’ faced both racial and gender discrimination yet persevered with brilliance and determination, breaking barriers and making essential contributions to some of America’s greatest achievements in space.

Table of contents

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Author & Writing Background

Margot Lee Shetterly is an American non-fiction author and entrepreneur. She holds a degree in Finance and worked in investment banking before turning to writing. Inspired by her father’s work at NASA and the untold stories of the women he worked with, Shetterly embarked on extensive research, interviewing the women and delving into archives to bring their experiences to light. Her writing style is engaging and accessible, weaving together personal stories with historical context to create a compelling narrative.

Key Takeaways

The Human Computers

The book highlights the crucial role of African American women mathematicians, known as ‘human computers’, who performed complex calculations for NASA’s space missions during a time of segregation and limited technology.

Overcoming Racial and Gender Barriers

These women faced significant discrimination and segregation, working in separate facilities and facing limited opportunities for advancement. Despite these challenges, they excelled in their roles and broke down barriers through their exceptional skills and determination.

Katherine Johnson

The book focuses on the remarkable story of Katherine Johnson, a brilliant mathematician who calculated trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths for Project Mercury, including John Glenn’s historic orbit around Earth.

Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Vaughan, a skilled mathematician and programmer, became NASA’s first African American supervisor, leading the West Area Computers and later pioneering the use of computer programming.

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson, an aerospace engineer, faced numerous obstacles to pursue her dream career. She fought to attend segregated classes and eventually became NASA’s first Black female engineer.

Contributions to the Space Race

The work of these women was instrumental in the success of major space missions, including the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and numerous other critical projects.

The Fight for Equality

Hidden Figures sheds light on the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing struggle for equality for African Americans and women in STEM fields.

Inspiration and Legacy

The book serves as an inspiration, highlighting the power of perseverance, intelligence, and the human spirit in overcoming adversity and achieving greatness.

FAQ about Hidden Figures

Is Hidden Figures based on a true story?

Yes, Hidden Figures is a non-fiction book based on the true stories of African American women mathematicians who worked at NASA during the space race.

What time period does the book cover?

The book primarily focuses on the 1940s through the 1960s, during the height of the space race and the Civil Rights Movement.

Has Hidden Figures been adapted into a movie?

Yes, a critically acclaimed film adaptation of Hidden Figures was released in 2016, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe.

What is the main message of the book?

Hidden Figures emphasizes the importance of recognizing the contributions of marginalized individuals, the power of perseverance in overcoming adversity, and the ongoing pursuit of equality and representation in STEM fields.

Hidden Figures Quotes

  • ”There are many things in the world we cannot control. We cannot stop the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building a nest in our hair."
  • "Every time we get a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line."
  • "We all get there eventually. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”