12 Books to Read If You Loved Hidden Figures
Based on Margot Lee Shetterly's book of the same name, the award-winning film Hidden Figures tells the untold true story of three African-American women who, using their mathematical abilities and scientific prowess, became instrumental in the first manned orbit of the Earth. They not only helped to propel the Space Age into further success, but their work at NASA was also groundbreaking for women in science and people of color. Like these three women, there are many unsung heroes who paved the way for others today, and their stories will no longer go untold. Check out the list below of a dozen books you should read if you loved Hidden Figures.
We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program by Richard Paul and Steven Moss
In their 2016 historical book, We Could Not Fail, authors Richard Paul and Steven Moss relay the true accounts of 10 African-American men who worked at NASA. In a time when the excitement of the Space Race perfectly coincided with the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, the work of these men propelled America closer to the stars, as well as toward a more accepting, promising future for minority citizens. Their success as engineers, mathematicians, technicians, and more broke down barriers for black intellectuals and science in general. We Could Not Fail details their trials and tribulations, how they overcame them, and what it means to finally be recognized as a black pioneer of the American Space Age.
Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
New York Times bestseller Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the true story of a group of women who transformed the Space Age with their mathematical abilities. Author Nathalia Holt interviews the surviving members of the team, known as the "human computers," and details the biases they faced as women in their field, as well as how they overcame such challenges. In a decade when women's roles were primarily domestic, these women braved discrimination and proceeded to revolutionize rocket designs and the first American satellites as well as lay the foundation for exploration of the solar system.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
From New York Times-bestselling author Dava Sobel comes the critically acclaimed 2016 favorite, The Glass Universe. During the mid-19th century, Harvard College Observatory hired women "computers" to calculate work for their male colleagues. Comprised of the female family members of the astronomers as well as students from the recently founded women's colleges, these women quickly put down their pencils and picked up the telescopes to study the stars themselves. Created with over half a million glass photographic plates, the "glass universe" helped these intelligent ladies discern everything from a star's composition to how to measure distance in space. Furthermore, the "glass universe" allowed these women to break the "glass ceiling" for female scientists and astronomers everywhere.
Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America's First Women in Space Program by Margaret A. Weitekamp
In 1961, Dr. Randy Lovelace created the Women in Space program. After a series of rigorous physical and psychological exams, 13 experienced airplane pilots were selected as the first female astronaut trainees. Unfortunately, NASA required all astronauts to complete a military jet test piloting program, something that women were incapable of doing at the time; the program was shut down and the group disbanded. However, these 13 women have been acknowledged as trailblazers for others, including the first American woman in space, Sally Ride.
Margaret A. Weitekamp's Right Stuff, Wrong Sex uses extensive research and first-hand accounts to delve into the lives of these 13 women and how they braved prejudice to prove that women were capable of achieving the same successes as men.
Florynce "Flo" Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical by Sherie M. Randolph
Born in 1916 in a KKK-populated Kansas City, MO, Florynce Kennedy was one of the greatest civil rights activists in history, promoting both black and female equality and empowerment. In the biography Florynce "Flo" Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, Sherie M. Randolph details Kennedy's fascinating life as well as her most groundbreaking actions in pursuit of civil rights, including becoming the first black woman to attend Columbia Law School (after threatening to sue them for rejecting her based on race and sex). Kennedy lived a life of courage and bravery, and her invincibility against societal norms is guaranteed to inspire.
The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli
Recognized as one of the best books of 2016 by The New York Times Book Review and The Washington Post, The Defender examines the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper that tackled the most taboo topics concerning black people in America. First founded in 1905 by African-American lawyer Robert S. Abbott (who went on to become one of the first black millionaires), the Chicago Defender published pieces discouraging violence in the Jim Crow-era, encouraging the Great Migration, and openly publicizing the horrific racial killings that other media was afraid to discuss.
The paper also featured famous guest columnists such as Langston Hughes, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King Jr. Furthermore, after taking over the paper for his uncle, John H. Sengstacke worked with presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman to integrate presidential press conferences and the armed forces, respectively. Though unknown to many, the Chicago Defender was instrumental in shaping American history.
A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School by Carlotta Walls LaNier
On Sept. 25, 1957, a group of students known as the "Little Rock Nine" became the first black children to integrate into the segregated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Even after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education declared the segregation of public schools unconstitutional, outlawing separate state segregation, Little Rock Central High School continued to refuse admittance to black students. After President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened on their behalf, nine black students were able to attend, though they were still very much unwelcome.
Written by Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the original "Little Rock Nine," A Mighty Long Way gives a behind-the-scenes look at the everyday struggles she and the eight other students had to face, as well as how seeking an equal education paved the way during the Civil Rights Movement.
The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel
The inspiration for ABC's period-drama TV series of the same name, Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club focuses on the lives of the women married to each man of the famous Mercury Seven, a group of astronauts attached to the first human spaceflight program (including Hidden Figures subject John Glenn) known as Project Mercury.
With their families firmly planted at the center of the Space Age, drawing constant scrutiny from the public eye, these seven women found solace in each other and formed the Astronaut Wives Club. They met frequently to discuss their problems, hopes, and fears — which only the other members of the group would understand.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Born in 1969 in Minnesota, Hope Jahren is a world-renowned geochemist and geobiologist. Her work in soil science, including research on paleoatmospheres, paleosol (ancient soil), and various DNA technologies, has been instrumental in geological studies. In her 2016 bestselling memoir Lab Girl, Dr. Jahren opens up about her childhood and her first attraction to science, chronicles the failures and successes that resulted from her geological discoveries, and explores the unexpected relationship that developed between a fellow scientist and herself. Furthermore, she discusses the realities of being a woman in science, revealing that there are still many barriers that need to be broken.
Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World by Katherine Zoepf
For years, New York Times journalist Katherine Zoepf traveled across the Middle East for work. On her journeys from one Arab nation to another, she collected stories of young women who dared to defy expectations and excelled at it. Excellent Daughters explores the roles of women in five Arab countries, each with different societal norms and laws, and the girls who — in the face of religious and political barriers — choose to break the rules and create their own roles, delaying domestic responsibility to seek education, independence, and freedom.
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
During WWII, Oak Ridge, TN, was home to 75,000 average American citizens . . . or so it appeared. In reality, this suburban town was so secret that it didn't appear on any map. In 1942, the government established Oak Ridge as the location for the Manhattan Project, recruiting many young women in the process. Enticing them with a substantial paycheck and the promise of serving their nation to help end the war, the government successfully hired many girls for the work — without ever divulging what, exactly, that work was. Denise Kiernan's 2014 bestselling novel, The Girls of Atomic City, is the untold story of the women who, unknowingly, helped build the atomic bomb, and how their lives — and the world — were changed forever when the secrets of Oak Ridge were exposed.
Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr
In 1983, physicist and astronaut Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space. Bestselling author Lynn Sherr uses investigative research and personal family accounts to tell the incredible story of Sally's life. Considered to be the official biography of the groundbreaking woman, Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space chronicles Sally's journey to NASA and how she penetrated an all-male field, her flights in space and subsequent work on other NASA missions (including the tragedies of the Challenger explosion and Columbia disaster), and how — even after her retirement — she continued to pave the way for members of the LGBTQ community (which Ride herself was a part of), as well as for women in scientific fields.