Friday Reads: Rise of the Rocket Girls


“Friday Reads” is a weekly blog written by reference librarian Faith Lee about great books, magazines, and the occasional reference work.    Blogs may be about new titles added to the library, selections from the Staff Picks shelf or about something she recently read.  Admittedly, there is a definite slant toward nonfiction, because, well, she’s a reference librarian and likes to learn new things.  Guest bloggers take a turn sometimes too.  No matter the source, good reads are featured here. 


This week the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club discussed Rise of the Rocket Girls:  the women who propelled us, from missiles to the moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt.  Even though the we had a small group, only 5 as opposed to our typical 10, we had a spirited discussion and enjoyed many laughs while we dissected this interesting book.

Both a New York Times and a Los Angeles Times hardcover nonfiction best seller and an Amazon best book of April, 2016, Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the story of a tight-knit group of women who were human computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California from the 1950s up to the present day.  Combining both the math and technology they worked with, as well as their personal lives, Holt aims to inspire women in the sciences by holding up these important, but little known women, as role models.

At a time when only 20% of women entered the work force and were limited to only a few occupations, which they had to leave when they became pregnant, this unusual group thrived in an intense and pioneering work environment.  Their every calculation needed to be done quickly and accurately.  They worked long, fast-paced hours, sometimes spending the night in the lab.  But somehow, some women still managed to keep a marriage afloat and raise a family too.   They were respected by the men at JPL for their accomplishments and eventually, as their roles changed from computing to designing, given the new titles of engineers.

If this sounds a bit like that movie that was nominated for three Oscars and won the Screen Actors Guild Award earlier this year, you are not entirely mistaken.  That movie was Hidden Figures and it was based on a book also about a group of women doing the same thing at the same time, but on the opposite coast.  Whereas the JPL group was primarily white with one black woman and a few Asian women, the Hidden Figures group was all black.

We will be reading Hidden Figures: the American dream and the untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped with the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly next and during our discussion on Thursday, September 7, we will also compare the two books.  If you would like to join us, pick up a copy of Hidden Figures at the reference desk.



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