The movie, HIDDEN FIGURES, has received a lot more hype than the book upon which it is based. I have not seen the film, but my understanding is that it depicts the lives of only three of the many important characters in the book and that (surprise!) some of the story is fictionalized (Hollywoodized?).
Margot Lee Shetterly’s book about African American women, known as “computers,” who made major contributions to America’s superiority in the air and in space is the product of an amazing piece of research. I was an engineer in the aerospace industry in the early days of the space program, and I found Shetterly’s grasp of technical terms pertaining to aerodynamics, flight structures, heat transfer, propulsion, etc., accurate and on-target. The fact that she was able to explain these complex engineering issues in a way that is understandable to the nontechnical reader is quite an achievement.
I had been unaware of the contributions of African American women to both aircraft research at the old NACA and spacecraft research at NASA until I read this wonderful book. It’s an amazing story of how talented and determined ladies fought, in their own way, against bigotry–both against women and against blacks. When I was an engineering undergraduate at Oklahoma State University in the late 1950s, there was exactly one woman–and not a single black person of either gender–enrolled in engineering. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the black heroines of the book to break through the barriers placed in front of them. The author did a masterful job of tying in their individual stories with the sad history of racism in America.
I have only one, minor, gripe about HIDDEN FIGURES. The book contains essentially no dialog. As a history book, this would be fine, but I don’t think the author intended it to be that. I believe that many of the vignettes in the book could have been enhanced and made even more interesting, and pace could have been accelerated, by the use of conversations between the characters. But that’s just my opinion. Despite that one small criticism, I think the book is wonderful, and I recommend it as highly as is possible.