Margot Lee Shetterly: Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Ed)

Now in a special new edition perfect for young readers, this is the amazing true story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Soon to be a major motion picture.
Before John Glenn orbited the 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. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.

If you haven’t heard of Hidden Figures by now, you must be an naive astronaut yourself…ala Catcher Block (please tell me I’m not the only one who has watched that movie 700 times).

 

I still haven’t seen the Hidden Figures movie, but thank goodness it did not take a lifetime for the book to come available at the library. Although the edition I received was the Young Readers’ Edition…and I’m not sure how much of a difference (if there is one) between this and the regular version? I can tell you this only took me two hours to read, so do with it what you will. If there is an adult version out there, let me know what you thought of it!

I will never be over the amount of erasure that went into our school history books. Learning that might have been the biggest shock to my white privilege–I take education so seriously, and having huge chunks of information left out is unfathomable. I will slowly uncover some of what I have missed, but those who don’t care to extend their education will never know anything outside of those empty textbooks.

That is why it is so crucial for stories like Hidden Figures to be told. We learned about the space race, but all of the faces in that story were white. We never learned about the women at Langley, much less about the black computers crunching the numbers. Margot Lee Shetterly details each woman’s journey through Langley’s West Side Computing Office and into NASA.

Now, because I had the YRE, these stories were simplified. I am unsure what or if anything was left out or minimized. Nothing was extremely vivid–I have a feeling a lot of the edges were sanded down. On one hand, it was nice to have a lot of the science explained at a lower level, since I am the furthest thing from a mathematician. But I am quite interested in a more detailed depiction of these women’s lives. Also, we hardly got any information on Christine. The introduction sounds like there were four women involved, but the book is mostly about Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine. I would have liked a little bit more in her section.

I’m looking even more forward to seeing the movie now. And maybe I’ll see if the library has the full version. Maybe I just requested the wrong book–it has been known to happen! If you liked the movie, I highly recommend reading more about these women! And question your history books. What else are we missing from those pages?

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Jeff Wilser: Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life

Two centuries after his death, Alexander Hamilton is shining once more under the world s spotlight and we need him now more than ever.
Hamilton was a self-starter. Scrappy. Orphaned as a child, he came to America with nothing but a code of honor and a hunger to work. He then went on to help win the Revolutionary War and ratify the Constitution, create the country s financial system, charm New York s most eligible ladies, and land his face on our $10 bill.The ultimate underdog, he combined a fearless, independent spirit with a much-needed dose of American optimism.
Hamilton died before he could teach us the lessons he learned, but Alexander Hamilton s Guide to Life unlocks his core principles intended for anyone interested in success, romance, money, or dueling. They include:
Speak with Authority Even If You Have None (Career)
Seduce with Your Strengths (Romance)
Find Time for the Quills and the Bills (Money)
Put the Father in Founding Father (Friends & Family)
Being Right Trumps Being Popular (Leadership)
For history buffs and pop-culture addicts alike, this mix of biography, humor, and advice offers a fresh take on a nearly forgotten Founding Father, and will spark a revolution in your own life.”

Ah, Alexander Hamilton. He has gone from historical obscurity to being our most famous founding father–as he rightly should be. It’s amazing, once you take a close look at him, how much A. Ham really contributed to every single piece of our government…for better or worse.

Hamilton really did write like he was running out of time, and he had so much to tell us. Jeff Wilser broke down some of his more prolific statements into a sort of Founding Father self-help book. It’s full of witticisms and insightful commentary, modernized of course.

It’s supposed to be the type of book Hamilton would have written if he would have had time to write such a thing. Of course, if he had…it would have been four volumes and probably would have included some kind of impossibly boring personal finance plan along with the life advice. I’m glad Wilser left that chapter out. As it is, the Guide is a funny way to take in much of the history we already know from Chernow’s massive biography, while singing along to LMM’s cast album. There’s no mistaking who the author is targeting here. Luckily…who ISN’T a fan of the musical at this point?

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Blogging for Books and Three Rivers Press provided a copy of this book for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Julia Baird: Victoria: The Queen

From International New York Times columnist Julia Baird comes a magnificent biography of Queen Victoria. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a stunning new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings vividly to life the fascinating story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning. This sweeping, page-turning biography gives us the real woman behind the myth: a bold, glamorous, unbreakable queen—a Victoria for our times, a Victoria who endured.

OOOOOH boy. This book, like Victoria’s reign, is long and never ending. Except when it does end, it happens suddenly, without warning, and you’re left with half a book left of notes and annexation.

It was interesting reading this so soon after watching The Crown. Obviously two different queens entirely, different time periods, different manners, different ideals. But the same challenges, prejudices, ageism, and misogyny. I could certainly see how the groundwork for Elizabeth’s reign was laid by Victoria’s. But that’s a different story altogether. Back to Victoria…

There’s so incredibly much to be learned here. I really knew nothing about Queen Victoria before starting this, except that there is a whole group of people and culture named after her. Who knew that her husband was the main influence of that movement–not actually Victoria herself? My reading journal is filled to the brim with the new random facts I gained by reading this.

But, that’s also my biggest criticism too. Sometimes this book doesn’t seem like much of a biography of Victoria at all. Often I wasn’t sure if she even respected the Queen, and I feel like that is kind of a necessary qualification for writing a biography about someone. It’s hard to figure the author’s motivations. Did she want to write about Victoria, but lose respect after getting into the research? Was she just super into the time period and decide the Queen would be the best base? I’m not sure. At times it almost felt more of Florence Nightingale’s commentary on Queen Victoria’s lack of feminism.

Speaking of which, let’s be clear. Queen Victoria was NOT a feminist. Which was wholly disappointing to discover–and why I wonder if the author misses the respect needed to write the biography she intended. Albert was that husband that very much dissed woman’s suffrage and even though his wife was THE QUEEN, still managed to convince her that he deserved more power over her. The work felt bitter because of it, especially when Nightingale stuck her nose in.

As an informative biography, I think it’s extremely well researched. I found the details fascinating, and as usual I loved reading about a monarch I didn’t previously know much (or anything) about. However, there definitely seems to be a bias here. I am unsure if it was intentional or if the history really was colored that way, but there’s just some weird tone that I haven’t felt in other similar biographies. Hm. I need to think on this one.

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NetGalley and Random House provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Killing Lincoln

In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America’s Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.

In the midst of the patriotic celebrations in Washington D.C., John Wilkes Booth—charismatic ladies’ man and impenitent racist—murders Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. A furious manhunt ensues and Booth immediately becomes the country’s most wanted fugitive. Lafayette C. Baker, a smart but shifty New York detective and former Union spy, unravels the string of clues leading to Booth, while federal forces track his accomplices. The thrilling chase ends in a fiery shootout and a series of court-ordered executions—including that of the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government, Mary Surratt. Featuring some of history’s most remarkable figures, vivid detail, and page-turning action, Killing Lincoln is history that reads like a thriller.

…Ok, Bill O’Reilly…

I’m not sure what thrillers you’ve been reading, but this sure doesn’t “read like a thriller.” It reads like a history book, just like any other history book. A very good history book…but a history book nonetheless.

Nice try though, really. I know how much you like to fan your ego. Keep fanning.

PS…not a fan of Bill O’Reilly…you can’t tell you can you? It’s why, even though I love history, his collection of “Killing…” books have been delegated to my “HUSBAND BOOKS” designation. I have been putting them off solely because of the author.

But honestly, I didn’t hate this. I actually quite liked it. The first section was a bit boring for me, because it was all about the end of the war and battles and Lee’s surrender. And I hate reading about war and battles and strategy. Come ON, Bill, this isn’t why I’m reading the book. This isn’t Killing Lee’s Dreams.

Once that was over, though, and we started to actually get into the meat of the story, it was much more interesting. I was surprised at how much I remembered from my 8th grade DC trip study group (Thanks Mrs. Captain!), so obviously O’Reilly did his homework. There was also some information in there that the best history teacher on the planet did not teach me…so maybe he does know what he’s doing. Maybe.

The narrative ends with the hanging of Booth’s co-conspirators. That section of history isn’t something I new much about previously, so it was the most intriguing. A few characters showed up I hadn’t heard of before, and now I’m interested enough to look up more about their mysterious stories.

All jokes aside, this actually was a well written history. There was no political slant–which is something I was worried about from such an outspoken TV personality. Apparently, behind the man we love to hate, there is simply an *cough* intelligent *cough* history buff who knows how to do great research.

One more note–Martin Dugard is O’Reilly’s coauthor on these books, but he’s very rarely mentioned besides a smaller byline on the cover. I am unsure how the writing process breaks down for the two of them, but I do know they were partners on this. Does one do research and the other write? Do they share equally? One write, one edit? I don’t know! I’d be interested, though, if anyone does know.

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Shakespeare: The World as Stage

I have to tell you something. I don’t like Shakespeare.

I KNOW RIGHT? What kind of book nerd am I? It’s basically against the law to not like him. But I just find him uncomfortable.

Still, he’s one of those famous people in our history that one should know things about. So when Bill Bryson’s bio popped up on sale…why not? I like Bill Bryson.

I’d recommend this to anyone needing a brush up on good ol’ Will. The book is 211 pages long. Nice and short. There’s not really a ton of information out there about the man, so most of it is more historical context than anything. There’s a bit about his wife and the plays, the theater, some about the politics of the day, and the plagues. It’s really nothing complicated. Just a short and sweet little history about the 16th century.

Bryson knows how to do his job. He never overdoes a book. His histories are interesting but factual, and he does what he can to eliminate conspiracy theories. I’ve read a few from him before, and I have several on my list to read in the future. He never disappoints.

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He Wanted the Moon

Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized.

Baird’s daughter, Mimi grew up mostly not knowing her father, as he was hospitalized when she was young. Fifty years later, a family member sent his manuscript and she knew his story must be told.

He Wanted the Moon is half Dr. Perry’s story, part Mimi’s. She bookends Perry’s manuscript with details of her life and the part he plays, but the most interesting part is definitely the manic genius that is Perry Baird. As he cycles into his own horrifying madness, he strives desperately to find a cure.

Up to this point, I’ve read mostly about the depressive side of bipolar disorder. I’ve never seen such an intense form of mania. This will be shocking to some of you–it shocked me! It’s part scary, part fascinating. He Wanted the Moon has been optioned for a movie with Brad Pitt, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this is portrayed. Hopefully, the director and actors really study and respect those with mental illness–it has the potential to be a really great movie if they do!

This is another great brain geek book, but it’s also just a really great story. Kind of an adult Flowers for Algernon in reverse. The more Dr. Baird’s brain deteriorates, so his writing goes too, and it becomes harder to believe what you read. The study is both fascinating and sad, and it’s impossible not to feel for everyone involved.

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Blogging for Books provided this book for an unbiased review.

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Alexander Hamilton

What’s your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton. There’s a million things I haven’t done. Just you wait, just you wait.

Why yes, I did just sing that from memory. I *might* be a little obsessed. OK…more than a little.

GUYS GO LISTEN TO HAMILTON IMMEDIATELY I COMMAND YOU.

SON. CALL ME SON ONE MORE TIME.

Dammit. Sorry, I did it again.

As if my Hamilton obsession couldn’t get any worse, I just finished the 730 page Ron Chernow biography that Lin Manuel Miranda based his musical after. And by that, I don’t just mean he took a few facts from it, oh no. GUYS, I COULD MATCH THE RHYTHM TO THE ENTIRE BIOGRAPHY. Have you ever read a 730 page biography in rap? It makes it SO much more interesting. I wish Lin Manuel Miranda could teach us all of the history. We would understand so much more.

Hello, Mr. Next President, do you want to save the schools? This is what you need to do. Hire LMM to produce our curriculum. Post to the internet. Done. Teenagers will now be engaged. They will even create fanart.

But I’m getting away from the actual biography again. For the most part, it’s exactly the same as the George Washington one that I read several months ago. It’s very long and very dry. There is SO much research here, and he does a brilliant job. It’s a 730 page history, though, and while Hamilton is very interesting, there’s only so much you can do to make it not boring. And that is to get LMM to make a musical about it. Seriously, Chernow needs to kiss LMM’s feet for the amount of extra book sales he is getting out of this. I couldn’t find it anywhere because it was sold out.

Sorry. Sorry. The book. Right. It’s a solid biography. If you like biographies, read it. If you are interested in the founding fathers, read it. If you’ve previously read Ron Chernow’s work and liked it, read it. If you are obsessed with the musical…it’s going to be a toss up. Because I’m a book nerd and will read EVERYTHING, I say read it–but I also think there are a lot of musical nuts who may start this monster and just really not care for it at all. It’s a beast. Just know what you are getting into when you pick it up, and if you’re used to fiction and never read NonF, this may not be the book for you.

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Fulfills Bibliophilicwitch’s #BigBookChallenge

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Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Whether you know him as Doogie Howser, Barney Stinson, or Dr. Horrible, everyone knows Neil Patrick Harris. He’s unavoidable. He’s LARGER THAN LIFE in every role he plays.

I really first got to know NPH on HIMYM, and the Barney Stinson character is just soooo, well……BARNEY STINSON….that it’s hard to separate him from NPH. But, the more I watched the show, the more I learned about the man behind the bro, and found out just how different the two actually were.

I’ll admit, I was pretty hesitant to read Choose Your Own Autobiography, for only one reason–the choose your own adventure part. See, I absolutely disagree with NPH on how great these types of books are. I can’t read them. I am a “Read every book front to back, every single page” kind of girl. Every insert, photo, blurb–it all gets read, in order. There is no page flipping, multi-storyline, go back and finish later. No way.

Sorry, Neil Patrick Harris. I broke the rules. I read your confusing-ass-book in order, every single page. Even the ones I wasn’t supposed to find.

Because of his choose-your-own theme, he scattered a few made up stories throughout the book–ones that, had I followed his actual maze, would have led me to a dead-end and turned me around. I really should just follow the rules. Instead, I just found them weird and uncomfortable. But, for the most part, it was pretty clear when they were not truthful–not always though.

The rest of the book, however, was written mostly in chronological order, so I was able to follow along as if it were a normal memoir. A normal memoir written in second person narrative…but a normal memoir none-the-less. This is a book written as only Neil Patrick Harris could write, really. I stopped frequently to look up a performance or scene he mentioned, such as his 2013 opening Tony number “Bigger.” WOW. Can you say Standing O?

And, while quite a lot of the book is the Bigger NPH that we all see publicly, there is quite a lot of the softer, more personal Neil that we don’t get to see as often. There’s notes from his friends, the story of how he met David and their family came to be. He talks about his parents and the long discovery of his sexuality. I wouldn’t say it’s a tell all–but it’s a very, um, interesting book detailing the life of one of the most lovable faces in celebrity today.

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Blogging for Books provided this book for an unbiased review.

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The Woman Who Would Be King

As we approach the 2016 election with the first real chance we have for a female president–feelings for Hilary aside–it has been interesting to see just how uncomfortable the idea of a woman in power really makes people. And by people…well…you know what I mean.

There haven’t been many, proportionally, but the women who do make it to the top of the food chain always have fascinating stories to tell. And so I have been lining my bookshelves with them. Whether they are seeking notoriety for power’s sake, revenge against men who have torn them down, or they just want to make the right changes happen–these women put their stamp on our world in a variety of magnificent ways. MORE WOMEN AT THE TOP PLEASE!

The latest of these women to find their way to my shelves is Hatshepsut. in The Woman Who Would Be King, Kara Cooney tells the history of this ancient Egyptian woman who was not satisfied as the King’s Great Wife, or even High Priestess. No way. When her husband died, leaving his son, and her nephew, as his successor, rather than stay as his regent, she named herself Co-King. Senior Co-King, to be exact. During her reign, Egypt prospered, and she built an empire.

This book, of course, is fascinating. Hatshepsut isn’t well known–like Cleopatra or Nefertiti–as her nephew destroyed many of her statues and temples after she died. She also didn’t live her life with much drama. She was all business and ambition, and she was very pious. But oh how she ruled. She was no queen. Hatshepsut was KING and had all the power behind it. In ancient Egypt, that was a big deal. Hell, it’s still a big deal in 2016.

Definitely check this awesome woman out. Also, kudos to whoever did the cover design.

  1. She’s not whitewashed. This is a gorgeous, fierce black woman, just as she should be.
  2. They put a metallic overlay on the whole front so she positively glows.
  3. Seriously, it’s just gorgeous.

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Blogging for Books provided this book for an unbiased review.

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Oscar Wilde

June is Pride Month, and so to celebrate, I added some specific books to my TBR. The Empty Family had several gay narrators. I’m listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on audiobook on my walks, so I’ll review that one when I am finished. And Under the Lights was a bit of a surprise that I’m not revealing, but that one turned out perfect for the theme too!

I wish there were more books out there with LGBT characters, and my library has been posting a lot of recommendations, many of which I have added to my TBR. If you have some good ones, shoot them my way!

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The book I was most excited to read for Pride was about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde. Written as part of a series called Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians, Jeff Nunokawa gives us a short but informative piece on Wilde’s struggle to be a prominent gentleman in 19th century England, while living his life the way he needed to.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. Obviously, you can’t fit that much life into 100 pages. The information was there, it just wasn’t that grandeur you expect when reading about Oscar Wilde. It was very “This happened on this date.”

And ok, I can live with that. What really got to me though was that here we have a book about a gay man in the 19th century, at the height of Victorian censorship. His very name stood for persecution.

And then in the book written ABOUT this man…this happens:

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Now, I am sure it was a publishing error, but still. There was about 10 pages missing, randomly in the middle of the book. And in a 100 page book, that’s a lot of information.

Just kind of makes you wonder, huh? It IS a library copy.

Anyway. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I skipped to the end, past the snow white pages, and read about the trial and sad end to this brilliant man’s career.

Time to read something a little less sad.

What are you reading for Pride? I hope all my LGBT friends are having a fantastic month!