Shelf Life: No longer hidden

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It is always significant when an untold story gets its due and becomes well known to the masses. As was the case this year with the release of the movie “Hidden Figures,” about African American female mathematicians who played a pivotal role in the “Space Race” while working for NASA in the 1960s. If you don’t know about it yet, check out the DVD or the book it was based on by Margot Lee Shetterly at the library. Here are some other lesser-known stories you might be interested in as well.

If you want to learn more about the women who worked in the space program, check out “Rise of the Rocket Girls.” Nathalia Holt’s book is about female mathematicians who worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California in the 1940s and 50s. Known as “human computers,” they calculated velocities and plot trajectories with only pencil and paper to transform rocket design and help bring about the first American satellites.

“The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan starts a little earlier in American history, as it is the story of some of the women who helped win World War II. Thousands of civilians, mostly women, were recruited and brought to Oak Ridge, Tenn. (a mere three hours from Polk County) for a mysterious government project. Little did most of them know, they were helping build the atomic bomb.

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As it’s hot off the presses, just having been released last month, I haven’t had a chance to read “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann but I can’t wait to get my hands on it! It’s received amazing reviews so far and explores the unusual history of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. In the 1920s, the Osage were some of the richest people in the world after oil was discovered beneath their land and when they started mysteriously dying, it became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations.

This is Grann’s second book and his first, “The Lost City of Z,” was well received also. The film version is currently playing at Tryon Theater.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” also recently became a movie, starring Oprah Winfrey on HBO. The book has been popular since it was written by Rebecca Skloot in 2010 after extensive research. Henrietta Lacks was known as HeLa to scientists, who took her cells (without her knowledge) in 1951 and used them to develop the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization.

Recognized as one of the best books of 2016, “The Defender” by Ethan Michaeli examines the Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper founded in 1905 that tackled taboo topics concerning African-Americans. The paper featured famous guest columnists such as Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. and was instrumental in shaping American history.

Though a little bit of her story may already be known to you, Carlotta Walls LaNier was one of the “Little Rock Nine,” the first black students to integrate into the segregated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957. Her book “A Mighty Long Way” offers insight into the everyday struggles she and her classmates faced at that time as well as how seeking an equal education was vital to the Civil Rights Movement.

I’m sure there are so many important untold stories that deserve their day in the sun and I don’t have the space to include them all here. If you know of any other books like these that I should add to my reading list, please let me know!

Jen Pace Dickenson is the Youth Services Librarian at Polk County Public Library. For information about the library’s resources, programs, and other services, visit or call 828-894-8721.