2017-18 Theme Year Book

As part of each theme year, MUSE selects a centerpiece book for the campus community to read and discuss. This year’s book, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, is Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Ms. Shetterly will visit the University of Utah in March 2018 as part of the MUSE Theme Year on Independence. 

The #1 New York Times Bestseller

The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. 

Before John Glenn orbited Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. 

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades as they faced challenges, forged alliances, and used their intellect to change their own lives and their country’s future.

Critical Acclaim

“Restoring the truth about individuals who were at once black, women and astounding mathematicians, in a world that was constructed to stymie them at every step, is no easy task. Shetterly does it with the depth and detail of a skilled historian and the narrative aplomb of a masterful storyteller.”


“Much as Tom Wolfe did in “The Right Stuff”, Shetterly moves gracefully between the women’s lives and the broader sweep of history . . . Shetterly, who grew up in Hampton, blends impressive research with an enormous amount of heart in telling these stories.

Boston Globe

In this debut, Shetterly shines a much-needed light on the bright, talented, and wholly under-appreciated geniuses of the institution that would become NASA. Shetterly’s highly recommended work offers up a crucial history that had previously and unforgivably been lost. We’d do well to put this book into the hands of young women who have long since been told that there’s no room for them at the scientific table. 

Kate DiGirolomo, Library Journal


Are you interested in reading Hidden Figures with other students as part of a book discussion group? MUSE facilitates campus-wide, student-run book discussion groups. If you would like to join an existing group, or if you’re a student looking to start a Hidden Figures discussion group of your own, please email Libby Henriksen at e.henriksen@muse.utah.edu for more information. 

TEACHING HIdden figures

Are you a faculty member interested in teaching Hidden Figures in your Fall 2017 or Spring 2018 course? Please contact Libby Henriksen at e.henriksen@muse.utah.edu to find out how you can obtain copies of the book for your students.

MUSE extends heartfelt thanks to O.C. Tanner, whose generous grant allows MUSE to purchase and distribute hundreds of copies of these books at no cost to our students.