Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race is a 2016 nonfiction book written by Margot Lee Shetterly.[1]

Hidden Figures
AuthorMargot Lee Shetterly
PublisherWilliam Morrow and Company
Publication date
September 6, 2016
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePaperback



Shetterly started working on the book in 2010.[2] The book takes place from the 1930s through the 1960s, depicting the particular barriers for Black women in science during this time, thereby providing a lesser-known history of NASA.[3] The biographical text follows the lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three mathematicians[4] who worked as computers (then a job description) at NACA and NASA, during the space race. They overcame discrimination there, as women and as African Americans. Also featured is Christine Darden, who was the first African-American woman to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service for her work in researching supersonic flight and sonic booms.[5][6]

Hidden Figures explores the biographies of three African-American women who worked as computers to solve problems for engineers and others at NASA. For the first years of their careers, the workplace was segregated and women were kept in the background as human computers.[7][8] Author Margot Lee Shetterly's father was a research scientist at NASA who worked with many of the book's main characters.

Shetterly explains how these women overcame discrimination and racial segregation to become vital parts of mathematics, scientific, and engineering history. One of them, Katherine Johnson, calculated rocket trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo missions.[9] Johnson successfully "took matters into her own hands"[9] by being assertive with her supervisor. When her mathematical abilities were recognized, Johnson was allowed into what had previously been all-male meetings at NASA.[9][10]



The book reached number one on The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Sellers list[11] and got the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction in 2017. The book was adapted as a film by the same name, released in 2016, that was nominated for three Oscars.[1][12] It received numerous other awards.[13]



The book was adapted as a film of the same name, written by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder, and directed by Melfi.[13] It was released on December 25, 2016 to positive reviews from critics,[14] and received a nomination for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards.[15] It received numerous other nominations and awards.[13] Taraji P. Henson starred as mathematician Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer played Dorothy Vaughan, an African-American mathematician who worked for NASA in 1949, and Janelle Monáe played Mary Jackson, the first female African-American engineer to work for NASA.[16] The movie made $231.3 million USD. The budget of the film was $25 million USD.

While the film is based on the book, author Margot Lee Shetterly agrees that there are differences between the two, and she finds that to be understandable.

For better or for worse, there is history, there is the book and then there's the movie. Timelines had to be conflated and [there were] composite characters, and for most people [who have seen the movie] have already taken that as the literal fact. You might get the indication in the movie that these were the only people doing those jobs, when in reality we know they worked in teams, and those teams had other teams. There were sections, branches, divisions, and they all went up to a director. There were so many people required to make this happen. It would be great for people to understand that there were so many more people. Even though Katherine Johnson, in this role, was a hero, there were so many others that were required to do other kinds of tests and checks to make [Glenn's] mission come to fruition. But I understand you can't make a movie with 300 characters. It is simply not possible.[17]

Other adaptations


In 2016 a Young Reader's Edition was released for readers ages 8–12.[18]

A Hidden Figures picture book was released in January 2018. The book was co-written by Margot Lee Shetterly for children from four to eight years of age.[19]

See also



  1. ^ a b Howell, Elizabeth (January 24, 2017). "The Story of NASA's Real "Hidden Figures"". Scientific American. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  2. ^ "Author Q&A: Margot Lee Shetterly reveals NASA's 'Hidden Figures'". collectSPACE.com. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  3. ^ Scott, A. O. (December 22, 2016). "Review: 'Hidden Figures' Honors 3 Black Women Who Helped NASA Soar". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  4. ^ "Hidden Figures and Human Computers". National Air and Space Museum. January 26, 2017. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  5. ^ "Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson". School of Mathematics & Statistics University of St Andrews, UK. Retrieved March 1, 2017. Excerpt from W. Warren, Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, in Black Women Scientists in the United States (Indiana University Press, 1999), 140-147.
  6. ^ Shetterly, Margot Lee (2016). Hidden Figures. William Morrow. p. 129. ISBN 9780062363596.
  7. ^ Noel, Melissa (September 6, 2016). "New Book 'Hidden Figures' Reveals Black Women Who Helped The Space Race". NBC News. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  8. ^ "Oral History Archive: Katherine Johnson". National Visionary Leadership Project. 2005. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Buckley, Cara (September 5, 2016). "On Being a Black Female Math Whiz During the Space Race". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  10. ^ Mesidor. "Black Girl Magic History: 8 Facts You Should Know About The Real 'Hidden Figures'". essence.com. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  11. ^ "New York City African-American Business Leaders Partner with Google, Facebook, AT&T and 20th Century Fox to Inspire 25,000 Students with Tickets to Hidden Figures". PR Newswire. January 6, 2017. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  12. ^ "'Hidden Figures': How Black Women Did The Math That Put Men On The Moon". NPR. September 25, 2016. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c Busch, Anita (January 6, 2017). "'Hidden Figures' Filmmaker Ted Melfi Added Something Extraordinary To The Equation". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  14. ^ Verhoeven, Beatrice (January 9, 2017). "'Hidden Figures' Dethrones 'Rogue One' With $22.8 Million Weekend". TheWrap. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  15. ^ "Oscar Nominations 2017: See the Full List". Vanity Fair. January 24, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  16. ^ "Dorothy Vaughn (Character)". IMDb. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  17. ^ Pearlman, Robert Z. (December 27, 2016). "'Hidden Figures': 'The Right Stuff' vs. Real Stuff in New Film About NASA History". Space.com. Purch. Retrieved March 2, 2017. Shetterly was still writing her book when production of the film began — it was only just released in September — but she was also available to the filmmakers as they sought to condense a story spanning a few decades into their setting of just a couple of years.
  18. ^ Gilmore, Natasha (January 12, 2017). "Young Readers' Editions on the Horizon". PublishersWeekly. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
  19. ^ Ha, Thu-Huong. "A children's picture book of "Hidden Figures" is coming". Quartz. Retrieved October 9, 2017.