The Geography Ninja

No Longer Hidden Figures

A new year to me always means a new start.  I start a new planner, set goals for the year and promptly (as in almost immediately) discard them.  I love beginnings, but I am not so good at getting to the endings.  🙂  So, I am always looking for a chance to start over, to begin again.  This year, I allowed myself grace time and set goals that allowed myself flexibility and room to adapt and accommodate so that maybe, just maybe, I’d keep them going past the middle of January.  And, I’ve done ok – not great.  But, yesterday gave me another chance – Lunar New Year!  The family and I headed out for the local Pan-Asian buffet to celebrate, and I came home with renewed intentions.  Of course, one of my main goals is to maintain my website and blog more frequently.  So, after giving the website a thorough spiffing up, I’m ready for my first post of the new year.

My reading goal for the year is to read at least one non-fiction (preferably Geo related) book each month.  I feel fairly strongly that this goal will quickly succumb to the pressures of reading for two Harvard classes, but I will make the attempt, none the less.  This month, I read “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly after seeing ads for the movie.  Anything about NASA and the early space race is definitely high on my list of must reads, and since this story adds in women and minorities in Science, it raced to the top of my list.

I want to say that this is a book everyone should read.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this is a story everyone should hear.  The content of this book – the stories of the black women who played such a pivotal role in the development of the air and space industry in the US, is critical.  As Shetterly points out, it wasn’t so much “hidden” as just untold, and she has filled a void in telling the story of these women.  Through the stories of these women, we experience the worst aspects of racial segregation and gender discrimination in ways that have led me to feel far more outrage at these injustices than any other book, museum, movie or tv show has ever been able to do.

Unfortunately, this book suffers a bit in the storytelling.  It is clear that Shetterly is attempting to focus upon three significant women, while reminding the reader that there are thousands of others she could have discussed.  But, the story of each of these women is told in a way that I found very difficult to follow.  Shetterly jumps us back and forth in time interrupting one story to go back and refer to another – much like someone who is telling the story of their own life might do in person, and I wonder if that experience is what the author is attempting to capture.  What it seems to do, rather, is water down the stories of the three main characters and confuse the reader – at least, this reader…  In the epilogue, the author admits that there was much more to this story that she wanted to add, but that it needed to be cut for the story’s sake.  I think there was much more cutting and editing to be done.  Despite the confusion, however, Shetterly held my attention long enough to get her story across.  More importantly, she tells the stories in a way that elicited strong emotions – something many writers fail to do.

For the content of the story alone, I would give the book a 5.  But, the writing style brings it down to a 3.  I think anyone really interested in the early era of space flight, civil rights or women’s issues would find this book readable enough to stick with it.  I think casual readers might prefer to see the movie (which I have not see, yet).  Either way, I feel very strongly that this is a story that needs to be heard and I am glad that it has finally been told.