Updated: May 21, 2019

Hi everyone!! First up, apologies for my tardiness getting December’s book cub discussion going; I only finished the book late last week (oops). But please don’t take my lateness finishing the book as a reflection of what I thought of the book, because I loved it.

December’s book was Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It’s the non-fiction story of the African American women who helped the US win the space race. These were a group of female mathematicians known as ‘human computers’ who crunched the numbers that would launch rockets and humans into space. If you haven’t read this book, put it on your list for 2017. It’s more than a beautifully told story; it’s a history book that documents and provides historical evidence of these women’s contribution to some of the most defining moments in the twentieth century. To join in the book club discussion, just leave a comment at the end of this blog post and feel free to comment on other people's comments too.

As I mentioned at the outset, Hidden Figures is the true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of the United States’ greatest achievements in space. It was a time when racial segregation and sexism were common place and computers referred to people not machines.

For me Hidden Figures is a story of hope – for even when a person is faced with barriers such as those faced by these women, they succeeded thanks to their talent and hard work. They faced racial discrimination, legal segregation, personal hardships and more. In spite of these, they went to college, obtained degrees, found employment and excelled as professional mathematicians. Ultimately they were key figures in some of the most high profile space missions undertaken by the US; from the first US astronaut orbiting the earth to the lunar landing.

Through these women’s stories, we also learn about racial tensions in the US during World War II. While the US was fighting the war on principles of individual freedom and democracy, it was continuing to discriminate against its own black citizens at home; many of whom had stepped up to join in the war effort.

In the epilogue to the book, the author says that the question that comes up most often when she tells people about the black women who worked as mathematicians at NASA is why haven’t we heard this story before? This is the question, I kept asking myself too. This book is a powerful piece of work, not only for its writing and its ability to keep you enthralled from start to finish but for its importance in making known this important part of American history. Hidden Figures is now a major motion picture that has just been released in the US and will soon be released in Europe. There has been a universally positive reaction to the movie in the States and it’s second only to the new Star Wars movie in the US box office. Many people are going to read this book and watch this movie and learn about these wonderful women and of that, the author must be very proud indeed.

Whether you love an enthralling story or you are a history buff, do yourself a favour and read Hidden Figures.

So please let me know what you thought…

1. First of all, did you like the book? If yes, why and if no, why not?

2. One quote that the author uses to describe one of the women, Katherine Johnson is that “she has been standing in the future for years, waiting for the rest of us to catch up”. I loved this description of Katherine, whose story I found the most enthralling. Were you drawn to any character’s story in particular?

3. How did you think the book explored the issue of the civil rights movement in general?

4. Last of all, would you go see the movie having read the book. I know I will be first in line at the cinema.

Thanks so much for reading this book with me. January’s book is Swing Time by Zadie Smith so if you are all about the reading this year, grab a copy and join in the fun.

Happy reading, Frances xx