My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hidden Figures is a true account of a group of black American mathematicians ( I won’t use ‘African Americans’ because the book doesn’t discuss their ethnic heritage so it would be wrong to assume ) who provided substantial contributions to the advancements made by US of A in aircraft tech and space research between 1940s to 1970s. It follows the lives of 3 mathematicians, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who were “computers” with NACA ( now NASA) called so because they used pencils, slide rules and computing tables to perform complex calculations that would help the engineers model or modify aircraft tech.
It begins in an America which was still shackled by “equal but separate ” adage, which wasn’t true factually speaking. Separate schools, separate bathrooms and separate sections in cafeterias just scratch the surface of the discrimination that was on rampart. The bigger problem was white folks calcified and calloused attitude to this discrimination. The Black schools lacked severely infrastructure and facilities. Even qualified black graduates could not apply to most of the positions in the civil service or private sector, definitely not the white collared ones. A lot of beaches and resorts were out of bounds for them, even the well to do populations, even the ones with the means to pay for them. They were declined services almost in all such places. The Great Depression that followed WW II was a creak, a tiny opening in the door, for these well qualified, highly deserving women, the who, until then, had to be satisfied with underpaying teaching jobs and such. However, it did set the tone for more opportunities in the days to come. Each of these women came from a background, no different than you and me, and grew up instilled with values, self esteem and a thirst to prove themselves and reliance on work hard. One of my favourite quotes from the book is something young Katherine Goble’s father taught each of his children:
You are no better than anyone else, and no one is better than you.