I have to admit that I have not yet seen the movie, although I heard about it before I knew there was a book. I was planning to see the movie when it came out on DVD and now it has, except now I worry about what the movie does to the book. It’s a dilemma.
Hidden Figures is a good book, and a fairly easy read. For a book about mathematicians, it’s not too technical, but it has enough detail about the math and work environment so that even someone who hasn’t seriously dealt with mathematics or physics in over a decade can follow, but still actually be a book about people who work with math and physics. I suppose to say it’s a book about mathematicians isn’t quite right though; the focus isn’t really on that. This is really more of a book about a handful of African American women working for NACA (predecessor of NASA) in the Jim Crow era who happen to be good with math and physics.
The characters are what make the book, although there are times when the perspective shifted from one woman to another, and I’d forgotten who the first lady was. The stories are meant to be all tied together, but the focus on individual experiences sometimes makes those connections easy to forget. In spite of all the personal information making for interesting stories, there were times I wished that there was more specific information about their public situations and lives. Since a lot of the early parts of several stories have to do with teachers and education and various levels, I would have liked a little more detail about the places, situations, people, and processes about how education really worked for African American teachers and higher education in general. It’s not a subject that gets a lot of attention in basic US History, and I wanted a little more detail about Hampton University in particular, since it seems so important to so many of the people in the story.
If I have a complaint, it’s that things seem too easy for people in a lot of situations. A lady happens to be in the right place at the right time, you happen to know the right person, you happened to be lucky enough to come from a family that valued education and could afford to get you one, you happen to get the right person’s attention, the person someone argues with suddenly happens to see reason…. While I realize that this is a book written for a general audience, and can’t go on for too long, considering the complicated nature of the Civil Rights era and the time period just prior, a lot of things that sound like they would have been a lot harder or more complex end up seeming easy.
This is why I’m now a little worried about seeing the movie: will it be able to balance the work and personal, will it be able to show what must have been a lot of struggle, or will the movie just go for the drama?