Book Review: Hidden Figures

I heard so many great things about Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I figured I would get around to it one of these days. Then one of the kids in my history class asked if he could do his second half project on this book. He’d seen the movie and wanted to know more. Well sure, why not.

So I ordered it from Amazon. It came and I started reading because I won’t assign my kids anything I haven’t read myself.

I like non fiction. Let’s get that right out there. Well researched non fiction is in fact my preferred genre of reading. The non fiction nature of this book was a not a problem for me.

I am a historian by training. I research tirelessly. So the setting of the novel was not unfamiliar to me.

Where I ran into issue, was the first 2/3rds of the book. Extremely short on actual details of the “incredible contributions” they made. And extremely long on preaching about racism in the south.

I get it, the south was heinously racist. If your book is in fact about racism in the south, bill it that way. Don’t pay lip service to the “incredible things they accomplished” and go on at infinitum and often repetitively, entire paragraphs repeated almost verbatim, about racism.

If your book is about the amazing things these women accomplished, show the goods. Show what they did at least in equal proportion to the amount of time you spend talking about what they over came to do the amazing.

The last third of the book she gets it right. The odds and accomplishments are both showcased in detail and in almost balance. Which made both for a compelling and emotional read.

I haven’t seen the movie. I might. I am undecided. While I applaud the real accomplishments of the women, I wish they had had a better biographer.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Hidden Figures

  1. Ah, interesting. This is much of why I’ve shied away from seeing the movie. I have always been gripped by the story of slavery and of racial equality struggles in this country. I grew up in Miami in the late 60’s early 70’s. It is something I closely observed and therefore have always grappled with and cared deeply about. That’s why I avoided the hype. The movie looked preachy and like, in weird ways, it diminished the actual academic and human integrity of the historical women. I’m very disappointed to hear that the book did that too. Although at least the final bit was redeeming.
    There were several clips that made them look undignified in today’s culture. I can tell you that women of any ethnicity or color would not have got away with that behavior in a professional setting in that time period. I think the filmmaker was trying to make them look strong by being outspoken – which translated to saying everything on their mind, but strength is truly knowing when to speak truth, not foaming at the mouth with every idea that runs through your head. I know they had the truth strength or we wouldn’t have heard from them in history. It’s demeaning to see them carry on in the film.

    Liked by 1 person

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