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Summary

One of AudioFile Magazine's Best Audiobooks of 2016.

Soon to be a major motion picture.

Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as 'Human Computers', calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these 'colored computers' used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Moving from World War II through NASA's golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women's rights movement, 'Hidden Figures' interweaves a rich history of mankind's greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.

©2016 Margot Lee Shetterly (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average customer ratings

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How did I not know about these women?

This book details the struggles and determination of a group of black women to be recognised for their worth. Brilliant mathematicians, they were housed in their own department and endured humiliating segregation socially despite working alongside white male colleagues.

What's really interesting about this book is that it examines the impact of the women becoming successful- good and bad.

The narrative is provided warmly but the underlying steel of the book shines through the narration and it beautifully brings the story to life.
Highly recommended

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Never seemed to get started

Struggled to finish this. I loved the film and this really dissapointed me. It just didn't seem to get started and I had listened to 2 hours.
The reader was clear but I didn't find it engaging. It might be the book or the reader. I am not sure.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jo
  • 09-07-18

NOT AS GOOD AS THE FILM

I struggled to finish this audio not sure if it was the flat, expressionless tone to the narrators voice or how the story didn't seem to flow. I enjoyed the film and think it is an excellent story that needed to be told but dont think it was written or naratored as well as it could have been.

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A book of biographies?

I found this audio book to be a laudible, well-researched series of biographies of mid-century African-American women and American civil history.

Unfortunately I am a literary dullard with a short span of attention. I was simply hoping for a cracking good listen about African American women and their involvement in the Space-race.
After 2 hours listening to the biographies, delivered by Robin Miles in a low-key narration style, sadly I gave up.
I really wanted to enjoy this audiobook, but lost enthusiasm to invest more time trying.

Sorry Ms Miles.

Lovers of biographies will enjoy and be fully engaged by this book.

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So much more than the film

I'm so glad that I watched the film first, otherwise it would have been a total disappointment. The book is extensive, and the story of the film seems quite different to the truth. The bare bones are the same: a trio of remarkable women broke boundaries in both gender and race to be part of one of the most historic events in US and even world history - the space race.

Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths by hand that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Forget Silicon Valley's misogynistic climate - women were the original engineers and mathematicians.

The book is awash with interesting stories of extraordinary people working in a time of segregation and all pervasive racism. It has multiple layers that delve into each character, and gives a comprehensive context into these women's lives. It basically fills in the gaps of the film, but also changes the timeline considerably as Katherine Johnson was much younger than her colleague Dorothy Vaughan. Nevertheles, an extraordinary read and a great tribute to these invisible women.

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Unfocused

This is a thoroughly researched book that tells an important story. For that reason I wish I could recommend it more.
If you've seen the film you'll know what it's about: the significant role black women played in the space programme despite the prejudice against both their skin colour and their gender. Prior to the publication of this book, and the release of the film, their contribution was largely forgotten or unknown, even by people like myself who are interested in space travel.
So what's wrong with the book?
To my mind, it's the structure that lets it down. We're just told facts, dry facts and lots of 'em. And so many names! The film focuses on three key women, but in the book the names of the main characters are lost among the minor players. There's some moving about in time too, so that it's quite hard to follow, especially as an audio book. It's not helped by the narrator's monotone, which makes the story fall quite flat at times.
If I'd been editor I'd have given chapter titles that clue us in to the purpose of the chapter. Let us know whether a chapter is focused on Katherine Johnson, or Mary Jackson, or relevant historical events, or technological developments at the time, or whatever. This could make the book much more accessible without having to dumb it down.
Don't get me wrong, it's not all dull and worthy. There are breathtaking moments, such as the appearance of Sputnik, John Glenn's precarious landing and so on. Also, the author is not in any way trying to make readers/listeners feel guilty for being white and/or male, and in fact there are heart-warming moments when friendships form that look beyond colour or gender.
At the end of the day, getting through this book is more of an effort than it should be, but is nevertheless worth the effort.
I will probably listen to the book again, or perhaps read a print version. I'll also watch the film again, even though I now know it takes a few liberties with history.

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Difficult audio book but great from a historical standpoint

I found this quite a difficult audio book, there are a lot of facts, dates and setting of the era which caused my mind to wander. I think this would have been easier as physical book. The story itself is incredible and you can tell a lot of research has been done. I think a lot of the personal stories did get lost amongst the technical detail.

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I hope this book's success brings more like it

I loved this book, as I suspected I would. I enjoyed the movie but watching it and reading reviews that talked about what it whitewashed and what it simplified made me eager to read the book. Which did not disappoint, with its depth the movie could never go into, and its more powerful stories of how the black women won their victories on their own, with no white savior.

I think the book did a good job of balancing the details of the women's work with the upbringings and families and volunteer work that so absorbed them, especially how much of that dealt with segregation, prejudice, and deliberately trying to help other black folks reach their potential.

I read it quickly and am sad to reach its end. I want more books about space and about black women, two of my favorite things to read about.

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Fantastic book

What am amazing story which is even better because it's not fictional.

Thank you to the amazing women for sharing and open the gates to women of all backgrounds.

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Dry

This is really dry. Not so much a story as a historical recount. Shame. And the lady reading the Audible version sounds a bit robotic.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 20-06-17

Women and science

A wonderful account of the role of women in the development of space technology. It describes the path to equal opportunity in the United States.

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  • manasi
  • 25-04-17

Exceptional story!

Hidden figures is a great story which has been very well written and narrated. Must read for every one to know perseverance can move mountains even in the most difficult and challenging times ! Motivating !!!

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  • Kate
  • 14-02-17

Excellent

This was an excellent book, so much more information than the film, yet enhancing the film. The film conflates some things as it has too but certainly captured and brought to life in a very relatable way this incredible history of these amazing black women. Well worth every penny.