Hidden Figures and Being a Critical Consumer of Media

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history.According to Nielson, “U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media in the first quarter of 2016.” When you consume so much information, how do you evaluate what is legitimate, accurate and useful information? This is something that’s become increasingly prevalent over the last few months in the new/fake news storm that has occurred around the election, but it applies to more than just news. It applies to all media.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days while I read Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history. It helps reshape stereotypes about the roles of women in general, and African American women specifically, in science, math and history. It sheds new light on the American history of discovery.

But here’s the thing. I found the book dreadful. It was like listening to someone read out a timeline of facts, at time repetitive and frequently reliant on clichés.

I believe in holding up all media, which certainly includes books, up to high expectations. And I’m torn on if I evaluate Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race as it’s quality as book or its value to our greater historical knowledge.

I have friends who comment on how harshly I evaluate books I read when I log them on Goodreads. I don’t think I am harsh but I do think I am critical. My system is consistent and straightforward, though influenced by the headspace I am in during reading.

  • Five Stars: Loved it, adored it and will be recommending it to everyone I know.
  • Four Stars: Really liked, will likely recommend it but don’t love it so much I have to keep a physical copy of the book on my shelves.
  • Three Stars: Entertaining and enjoyable, but likely forgettable. Most books get this ranking.
  • Two Stars: Didn’t care for the book.
  • One Stars: Hates the book. Few books have received one star from me.

So what do I rate this book?

I’ve gone back and forth on this and think I will be giving it three stars. As a contribution to my knowledge of history, it gets five stars. But as a book, which is how I approached it, maybe two stars? I know no one else might care how I rate my books, but it’s important to me that I apply a critical lens on my media consumption so I can make the best use of the 10.65 hours of media I am consuming each day. I try to apply all media I consume to the same set if high standards, because without those standards, we end up in situations where the headline of the day is about fake news.

I do want to add that I am excited to watch the movie Hidden Figures. I am interested to see how the script for the movie was adapted from what is shared in the book. And I am, always, excited to see the work of Taraji Henson and Octavia Spencer.