Another in my readalong books pile, where I encouraged blog readers and friends to suggest books from my TBR they would like to read alongside me. I was originally going to read this one with a woman from my online photo-a-day group and possibly Wandering Cranes last week, but it’s quite a dense book and I didn’t have quite as much reading time as I’d hoped, so it’s spread over two weeks. I did read a fair few novels alongside it, however!

I’ve read all except the bottom one in the pile, “Rewild Yourself” by Simon Barnes, now, which I think is pretty good going, and I’ve really enjoyed feeling people are reading them alongside me. I suppose I’ve extinguished that idea now as I haven’t added TOO many books since I displayed my TBR, but it’s been fun, thankyou. I have a few books lined up for the rest of this month – my Paul Magrs up next, “Where the Crawdads Sing” as Mr Liz is bursting to discuss it with me, and possibly a Diana Wynne Jones sequel. I am holding off on “Rewild Yourself” for a bit longer as Emma is still working her way through “Difficult Women”..

Margot Lee Shetterly – “Hidden Figures”

(23 April 2019, Cancer Research shop in Shirley)

I remember buying this book – I was going to meet my friend Linda to collect my birthday presents from her, and popped in the charity shops as I was a bit early. We’d just watched the film of this and there was the book! And it was exactly a year before I wrote up this review, which is nice and tidy, isn’t it?

This is an amazing book, let alone a first book – what an achievement! Twelve years in the making, Shetterly turns painstaking research into an engaging narrative of the lives and stories of the African American woman (and some African American men and some white women) mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA and its predecessor organisations. It cleverly weaves the women’s lives and careers, the changing social mores of Langley, with “Coloured Only” signs eventually vanishing from canteen tables and work teams being desegregated, and the wider battle for integration (and, shockingly, against it, particularly in Virginia).

I loved the narrative of mutual support that the author draws out, each women extending a hand to the next, and working in their communities and schools to encourage girls into STEM subjects and black children to dream and achieve. Those that were still alive appear to have given generously of their time and their tales of their colleagues. But she also draws out the way the visual narrative of those involved in space research and engineering came out on the side of the white and male.

I loved the little details – Martin Luther King Jr. turning out to be a fan of Star Trek and its black Lieutenant Uhura, and the author’s story of growing up assuming that black people naturally worked in science and engineering, as that’s where her own family were situated. You also spot details that made it into the film, but this book is so much more than the film, filling in all the details that could not be included there. I particularly love that we find out the book has also spawned the Human Computer Project, which has continued the work with a database of all the female mathematicians working during the period the book covers.

A tour de force which surprises, shocks and celebrates in equal measure, and a very competent and readable work of history/social history.