Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

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The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.


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About the author

Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the women in her book Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Published on
Sep 6, 2016
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History / United States / 20th Century
Science / Space Science
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
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"Disturbing and riveting...It will sear your soul." —Dave Eggers, New York Times Book Review


Named a best book of the year by Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, GQ, Time, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine, NPR's Maureen Corrigan, NPR's "On Point," Vogue, Smithsonian, Cosmopolitan, Seattle Times, Bloomberg, Lit Hub's "Ultimate Best Books," Library Journal, Paste, Kirkus, Slate.com and Book Browse

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
      Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.
      In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection.  Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. 
      In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • This inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

The New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Esquire • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage

Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Praise for When Breath Becomes Air

“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“An emotional investment well worth making: a moving and thoughtful memoir of family, medicine and literature. It is, despite its grim undertone, accidentally inspiring.”—The Washington Post

“Possesses the gravity and wisdom of an ancient Greek tragedy . . . [Kalanithi] delivers his chronicle in austere, beautiful prose. The book brims with insightful reflections on mortality that are especially poignant coming from a trained physician familiar with what lies ahead.”—The Boston Globe

“Devastating and spectacular . . . [Kalanithi] is so likeable, so relatable, and so humble, that you become immersed in his world and forget where it’s all heading.”—USA Today
Esta é a história incrível de um grupo de matemáticas afro-americanas que, com os seus cálculos, ajudaram a NASA e os EUA em alguns dos acontecimentos mais importantes da corrida espacial.

Este livro começa na Segunda Guerra Mundial e desenvolve-se durante a Guerra Fria, o movimento dos direitos civis e da corrida espacial. Elementos Secretos segue a vida de Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson e Christine Darden, quatro mulheres afro-americanas que participaram em vários dos maiores sucessos da NASA. É uma crónica de quase três décadas durante as quais essas mulheres enfrentaram desafios, forjaram alianças e usaram o seu intelecto para mudar as suas próprias vidas e o futuro do seu país.

Antes que John Glenn descrevesse uma órbita à volta da terra ou Neil Armstrong caminhasse na lua, um grupo de matemáticas conhecido como os «computadores humanos» calculava, com lápis, réguas e calculadoras simples, equações complicadas que permitiriam lançar os foguetões e os astronautas para o espaço.

Entre estas “calculadoras” havia um pequeno grupo excecional de mulheres afro-americanas, especialmente talentosas. Faziam parte das mentes mais brilhantes da sua geração. Mulheres que tinham sido relegadas para ensinar matemática em escolas públicas só para negros do Sul, mas que foram chamadas para servir durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial, devido à escassez de mão de obra, quando a indústria da aviação necessitava de qualquer pessoa que pudesse ajudar. De repente, essas mulheres desvalorizadas até então, encontraram empregos adequados à sua genialidade, e responderam afirmativamente à chamada do Tio Sam e foram para Hampton, na Virgínia, para o fascinante laboratório aeronáutico de Langley.

Mesmo ali, foram segregadas do resto das mulheres porque a Lei na Virgínia assim o estabelecia. Deste modo, esta equipa ajudou de forma excelente a que os Estados Unidos ganhassem a corrida espacial à URSS durante a Guerra Fria.

Esta é a história verdadeira das mulheres matemáticas afro-americanas da NASA, cujos cálculos ajudaram a concretizar alguns dos maiores feitos americanos no espaço, na qual se baseia a próxima grande estreia de Hollywood.

Esta es la verdadera historia, nunca antes contada, de las mujeres afroamericanas de la NASA expertas en matemáticas, que desempeñaron un papel crucial en el programa espacial de Estados Unidos, y cuyas contribuciones han permanecido anónimas… hasta ahora.

La fenomenal historia de mujeres matemáticas afroamericanas de la NASA en la vanguardia del movimiento feminista y de derechos civiles, cuyos cálculos impulsaron uno de los mayores logros espaciales de Estados Unidos. Ahora una gran película protagonizada por Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, y Kevin Costner.

Antes de que John Glenn girara en órbita alrededor de la Tierra, o Neil Armstrong caminara en la luna, un grupo de mujeres profesionales en el área de las matemáticas conocidas como «computadoras humanas» usaron lápices, reglas de cálculo, máquinas de sumar para escribir las ecuaciones base para el lanzamiento de cohetes y astronautas al espacio. Entre ellas se encuentran un grupo de mujeres afroamericanas excepcionalmente talentosas, algunas de las mentes más brillantes de su generación. Originalmente relegadas a enseñar matemáticas en escuelas públicas segregadas del sur, fueron llamadas a servir durante la escasez laboral de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, cuando la industria aeronáutica de Estados Unidos se encontraba en extrema necesidad de alguien con conocimientos.

Repentinamente, estas profesionales tenían acceso a un empleo digno de sus habilidades y respondieron al llamado del Tío Sam, se mudaron a Hampton, Virginia, y al fascinante mundo del Laboratorio Aeronáutico Langley Memorial. A pesar de que las leyes Jim Crow de Virginia les obligaba a estar separadas de sus homólogos blancos, el grupo de mujeres afroamericanas «Computadoras del oeste» ayudó a Estados Unidos a alcanzar una de las metas más deseadas: una victoria decisiva sobre la Unión Soviética durante la Guerra Fría, y el dominio completo de los cielos.

Iniciando en la Segunda Guerra Mundial y hasta la Guerra Fría, el Movimiento de los derechos civiles y la carrera espacial, Figuras ocultas entrelaza las historias de Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson y Christine Darden, cuatro mujeres afroamericanas que participaron en algunos de los mayores éxitos de la NASA. Es la crónica de sus carreras a lo largo de casi tres décadas en las que enfrentaron desafíos, alianzas y utilizaron su intelecto para cambiar sus vidas y el futuro de su país.

Azoknak a fekete matematikusnőknek a rendkívüli, igaz története, akik a feminista és a polgárjogi mozgalmak viharai közepette a NASA-nál végzett számításaikkal járultak hozzá Amerika legjelentősebb űrbéli tetteihez. 

Mielőtt John Glenn körberepülte a Földet, Neil Armstrong pedig a Holdra lépett, egy „emberi számítógépek” néven ismert, női matematikusokból álló csoport ceruzák, logarlécek és mechanikus számológépek segítségével számolta ki azokat az adatokat, amelyek felhasználásával aztán rakétákat és asztronautákat lőttek fel az űrbe.
Ennek a csoportnak jó néhány kivételesen tehetséges afroamerikai nő is a tagja volt, akik koruk legkiválóbb elméi közé tartoztak. Eredetileg matematikát tanítottak az amerikai Dél szegregált iskoláiban, ám amikor a második világháború idején az ország repülőgépipara súlyos munkaerőhiánnyal küzdött, őket is bevetették.  A matematikazsenik, akiken eddig keresztülnéztek, egyszerre a tehetségükhöz méltó álláshoz jutottak, és Uncle Sam hívására örömmel költöztek a virginiai Hamptonba, hogy a Langley Memorial Repülésügyi Laboratórium lenyűgöző világában dolgozhassanak.

A Virginiában érvényben lévő Jim Crow-törvények értelmében nem integrálódhattak ugyan be fehér társaik közé, a kizárólag fekete nőkből álló „nyugati komputer” csoport azonban így is sokat tett azért, hogy Amerika valóra válthassa egyik legnagyobb álmát: döntő győzelmet arasson a Szovjetunió fölött a hidegháborúban, és egyeduralmat szerezzen a mennyek felett.

A számolás joga a második világháborútól kezdve a hidegháborún, a polgárjogi mozgalmakon és az űrversenyen keresztül követi nyomon Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson és Christine Darden, a NASA legnagyobb sikereihez hozzájáruló négy afroamerikai nő egymásba szövődő életútját. Tanúi lehetünk, hogy karrierjük a könyvben szereplő majdnem három évtizede alatt hogyan néznek szembe a kihívásokkal, hogyan lépnek szövetségre és hogyan használják fel az intellektusukat ahhoz, hogy megváltoztassák az életüket és a hazájuk jövőjét.

A könyv alapján, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kirsten Dunst és Kevin Costner főszereplésével film is készült, melyet 3 Oscar-díjra jelöltek. 


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