In 1943, Virginia’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory had a problem: It needed computers to help engineer better airplanes to guarantee American success over the aerial battlefields of World War II. The computers required were not the electronic devices we use today; instead, they were women with comprehensive mathematics backgrounds. Women who have largely been forgotten by history despite their role in shaping it.
And a core group of these "hidden figures" were black.
Using research and interviews, Margot Lee Shetterly highlights the lives of three “human computers” in particular — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson — who worked at Langley during the war and, once it was established, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In doing so, she returns these women and their fellow “computers” to their proper place in the tale of one of mankind’s greatest achievements: space travel. The intertwined stories of each woman provide a deeper insight into the ingenuity, hard work and determination from all involved — male or female, black or white — that took us from airplanes to space shuttles.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race isn’t just about a group of mathematicians and engineers whose efforts helped break the sound barrier and put a man on the moon. Shetterly also delves into how the environment these women worked in was impacted by the racial and sexual politics and tensions of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s and what it meant for each woman to gain the position she did. She celebrates these women and what they achieved despite the discrimination they faced due to their skin color and gender.
When you’re finished with the book, you can check out the movie, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, in theatres January 5, 2017. Also, readers wanting more information on the contributions of African Americans and women to the space race should check out We Could Not Fail by Steven Moss and Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt.
The past is truly prologue in The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics. Author Stephen Coss transports readers to a time when newspaper publishers incited petty feuds and questioned scientific progress in order to increase their profit margin. An outbreak of smallpox provided the perfect opportunity for the new publisher James Franklin and his indentured servant and brother Benjamin to mock inoculation efforts by publishing an ill-informed doctor’s fears of the practice. Inoculation proponent Doctor Zabdiel Boylston found an ally in Cotton Mather to assist in his mission to inoculate willing Bostonians. In an obvious attempt to ease his guilty conscience for his role in the Salem witch trials, Mather gambled that Doctor Boylston would save more lives through inoculation than Mather had condemned through spectral evidence.
Meanwhile, fear of a subversive slave revolt was spawned when enslaved Africans shared their history of inoculation. It was not long before Bostonians feared the new medical practice more than the disease, owing to the compounding factors of a former Salem minister, images of a slave revolt and egregious medical editorials. As a result, the fever of 1721 would be remembered as one of the worst smallpox outbreaks in the Americas.
As Coss tracked the outbreak of smallpox across Boston and into the neighboring towns, another fever spread through the Massachusetts Bay Colony. An argument between the Royal Governor and James Franklin landed the latter in the jail, inspiring his brother to take up his cause in the name of freedom of the press. The events of 1721 not only set the stage for revolution, but helped shape the political and scientific mind of a young indentured man who would become known as “The First American.”
Book lovers: Are you up for a challenge? Book clubs: Want topics for which books to discuss next? Baltimore County Public Library and WBAL-TV 11 have just the thing for you — the 2017 Baltimore County Public Library Reading Challenge.
The challenge, which is a yearlong list of topics from which readers choose a book to read each month, is designed as a fun way for our customers to explore a variety of genres and encourage a lifelong love of reading. It includes a variety of themes that range from important (February’s “Read a book honoring Black History Month”), nostalgic (June’s “Re-read a book from your childhood”), fun (July’s “Read a book you faked reading in high school"), provocative (September’s “Read a book that was banned at some point") and more.
Participants are encouraged to take a photograph of themselves holding the book (or just the book for those who are camera-shy) they’ve chosen for a particular month along with the hashtag #Bwellread on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter. Two photographs will be randomly chosen on the last business day of each month and winners will receive $25 Amazon gift cards.
Jamie and Claire. If you easily recognized those two names, than you are wey ahead o' th' gam on this blog post. First published in 1991, the Outlander series — historical fiction that has taken its readers on the adventures of a time-traveling heroine to the Scottish Highlands during the mid-18th century — has reached the hearts, minds and now stomachs of its fans with the Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook by Theresa Carle-Sanders. The earthy nature of the recipes may inspire you to break convention this holiday season and create a feast that celebrates this popular story.
The book includes a forward by author Diana Gabaldon, who explains that it isn’t difficult to transform your 21st century kitchen into the ultimate Outlander Kitchen. As you prepare a Yuletide menu, why not make “Governor Tryon’s Potato Fritters,” a yummy pancake made up of only five simple ingredients — eggs, potato, flour, salt and onion. If you have a craving for sweets, there is the “Humble Crumble Apple Pie,” which probably speaks for itself, consisting of freshly cut apple slices within a light flaky crust. Included with each character-driven recipe is an excerpt from the book that wakes up the taste buds along with a vivid assortment of culinary photographs.
The Outlander series has captured the world and BCPL by storm — adapted as a television series available on DVD and also as a graphic novel. Set among the romantic backdrop of majestic hills and crags, it is easy to become spellbound with its natural beauty and rustic way of life. Traveling between two centuries and several different countries couldn’t be any easier this holiday season. Who knows, after trying out some recipes you may find yourself reciting the well-known Auld Lang Syne by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Sloch weel (eat well)!
Trevor Noah leapt to prominence in the U.S. when he succeeded Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show. Now, at age 32, he’s published his memoir. If that seems premature, it’s only because you haven’t read it yet. The title of Noah’s book, Born a Crime, is an indictment of the apartheid system into which the South African comedian was born.
More than an autobiography, Born a Crime is a child’s eyewitness account of life under apartheid and the upheaval that followed when that regime ended. The book’s also a tribute to Noah’s feisty, outspoken mother, Patricia. A member of the Xhosa tribe, Patricia defied the law by having a relationship with white businessman Robert Noah. Once Trevor was born, the couple couldn’t be seen in public as his parents. They enlisted a mixed race neighbor to pose with Robert and Trevor for “family” photos. The Black woman standing in the background of those photos, pretending to be the nanny, was Trevor’s real mother.
Noah finds humor and pathos in this bizarre upbringing. On a more serious note, he also speaks out strongly against domestic violence. Many years after her relationship with Noah’s father, Patricia married Ngisaveni Shingange. Noah recounts in chilling detail the gradual escalation of violence in the household and his mother’s struggle to leave Shingange. The decision almost led to her death. His stepfather’s threats against Trevor’s own life were one of the reasons the comedian turned his sights to a career in America.
Clearly, Noah has packed a lot of living into his short life — and this book only covers the first 25 years. Fans of books by The Daily Show alumni Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart will enjoy reading Noah’s autobiography, but it will also be of interest to anyone curious about life under apartheid.
Author Beth Macy, former reporter for The Roanoke Times, used to hear rumors about local African American brothers who’d been kidnapped by the circus. Impenetrably shielded by their family, the brothers’ fate remained private until their grand-niece Nancy Saunders agreed to allow Macy to share their history. The result is Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South.
Brothers George and Willie Muse were born in the 1890s in Truevine, VA, a rural and impoverished community of former slaves and their descendants — where Jim Crow reigned and “justice” might have meant lynching. Both brothers were born with albinism, which gave them golden hair, milky skin and light-sensitive pale blue eyes, which were a curse for children expected to toil in tobacco fields under the broiling sun. One day, the little Muse boys disappeared...the same day a White man in a carriage was seen riding through Truevine.
Before television or radio, America had the circus. Traveling circuses large and small entertained folks with their performers, animals and, though appalling by current sensibilities, sideshow acts. Featured along with giants, fat ladies and pinheads were the headliners billed as the Ambassadors from Mars, or sometimes as the sheep-headed cannibals Eko and Iko, aka George and Willie Muse, who eventually traveled the United States and abroad as part of the “greatest show on earth.”
Macy gives the reader two stories in Truevine. One is of the Muse brothers and their mother Harriet, an amazing woman — a Black domestic worker who repeatedly used the deeply racist legal system to challenge the influential entertainment industry to recover her children and end the exploitive working conditions under which they were held. The other, tightly entwined with the Muse narrative, is the historical detail on the circus and its freak shows, a microcosm which reflected broader societal norms. Well researched, fascinating and profoundly moving, Truevine is a story which needed to be told.
Looking for the next good book to read or a perfect holiday gift? BCPL librarians shared some of their most anticipated books coming out this fall and winter with customers at Book Buzz sessions around the county. It’s always hard to pick, but the librarians did come up with these favorites, already popular with so many readers.
Two iconic leaders are featured in our nonfiction picks. Candice Millard offers a fascinating account of Winston Churchill’s experiences during the Boer War in Hero of the Empire and Julia Baird uses the journals of Queen Victoria to shed light on the monarch in Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.
Among the many exciting fiction titles released this fall and winter are this diverse group. The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding explores contemporary middle-aged relationships, telling the story from three perspectives — a husband, a wife and the “one who got away.” Thriller fans will devour Holly Brown’s This Is Not Over, a story of two women caught in an escalating game of cat and mouse using hidden secrets in a psychological battle that leads to an explosive ending. Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth is a beautifully written novel that crosses generations and looks at the random events that have the biggest impact on our lives. Another family story that explores how one decision can shape lives is The Mothers, an unforgettable debut novel by Brit Bennett, my favorite of this season.