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The Wives of Los Alamos [Hardcover]

TaraShea Nesbit
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 April 2014

Their average age was twenty-five. They came from Berkeley, Cambridge, Paris, London and Chicago - and arrived in New Mexico ready for adventure or at least resigned to it. But hope quickly turned to hardship in the desolate military town where everything was a secret, including what their husbands were doing at the lab. They lived in barely finished houses with a P.O. Box for an address, in a town wreathed with barbed wire, all for the benefit of 'the project' that didn't exist as far as the greater world was concerned. They were constrained by the words they couldn't say out loud, the letters they couldn't send home, the freedom they didn't have.

Though they were strangers, they joined together - babies were born, friendships were forged, children grew up. But then 'the project' was unleashed and even bigger challenges faced the women of Los Alamos, as they struggled with the burden of their contribution towards the creation of the most destructive force in mankind's history - the atomic bomb.

Contentious, gripping and intimate, The Wives of Los Alamos is a personal tale of one of the most momentous events in our history.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus (24 April 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1408845997
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408845998
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


In this fascinating and artful debut, TaraShea Nesbit gives voice to the women closest to one of gravest and most telling moments in our collective history: the development and testing of the nuclear bomb at Los Alamos. Tender and mundane details of marriage and domesticity quietly collide with the covert and solemn work at hand. With chilling implications and charged, sure-footed prose, this is a novel - and writer - of consequence (Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife)

Hypnotic and filled with elegiac details; Nesbit offers fascinating and disturbing insight into the secret life of the Los Alamos families (Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles)

I am in awe of this novel. TaraShea Nesbit's brave and brilliant choice of point of view for these women living inside their earth-shattering secret crucible brings home to us in the fullest way possible that our personal story is never just ours. The Wives of Los Alamos will be read and re-read and remembered (Gail Godwin, author of Flora)

A debut novel that manages to be both intimate and detached and is all the more compelling for that **** (RTE Guide)

The story is told by all of the women - not queued up as an oral history , but together in unison as one haunting, communal voice . In the hands of a less certain writer, the narrative style might become grating, but Nesbit pulls it off with impressive control. Lulled by the voice, we know that offstage the historic work is being done . Because we already know the big story, the wives' tale - this diverse, incongruous ensemble - becomes that much more interesting (New York Times)

An insight into the wives of men who worked on the nuclear Manhattan Project in the Forties (Stylist)

Powering the novel is its narrative voice, a collective "we" that represents all the wives. This technique may feel initially distancing, but the rhythmic, hypnotic cadences build momentum to create a unique portrait of a rarely considered aspect of a particular historical moment (Daily Mail)

There's no individual heroine of this terrific novel; Nesbit tells their collective story - and the details of their lives are fascinating ... Mesmerising (The Times)

This is a story that will haunt you, as though the ghosts of the desert replayed the women's lives long after they had returned to their home towns with husbands, who were deeply marked by their achievement (Irish Times)

Nesbit empathises with the scientists' wives and skilfully conveys their bleak predicament, which resembles that of any homemaker suffering from isolation. The book gains in dramatic intensity when the goings-on in the lab start to spill out (Independent)

Book Description

Told in the collective voices of the wives of the men who created the atom bomb, this is the bold and emotionally charged story of the women of Los Alamos

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The making of the atom bomb as seen by the wives of the scientists working on it's construction during the Second World War, 1940s.

Shipped out to a secure compound in New Mexico, Los Alamos, the women have been uprooted from their normal lives and thrown together behind security checkpoints and barbed wire under the strangest of circumstances. It's quite inevitable a type of sisterhood would develop and it does. This is as much the story of American women of the times as it is the story of Robert Oppenheimer and the bomb. There's a great feeling of movement throughout the plot as the transient population grows ever bigger with the birth of babies and the influx of the workers needed to support both Oppenheimer and the families. There are so many small stories, some tragic, some racy and others just intriguing, tucked inside the main plot it's impossible not to feel involved.

TaraShea Nesbit builds good plot tension as she leads her story towards the first, successful, non atomic explosion of the bomb which leads the reader in just one direction - Japan and the end of the Second World War.

The books isn't long, my hard back copy runs to just 232 pages, and without doubt that helps concentrate the multiple story strands and increases the interest, the anxiety and the uncertainty the reader feels for the characters. There's absolutely no padding used by this author and I found that quite a joyful experience.

My only solitary 'niggle' would be that at first I found the collective 'we' as used to represent the women difficult to deal with. There isn't a single, central character narrating the tale. It's told from the perspective of the wives - all the wives - and they speak in one voice 'we'. The author handles that plural narration well but it did grate on me at the beginning. After a while I stopped noticing because the book's so interesting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Set in the military compound of Los Alamos, New Mexico, where Robert Oppenheimer and his team of physicists worked to create the first atom bomb, this is an intelligent and gripping version of the story. Told through the collective voice of the wives (‘we were more than I, we were Us, we were Us despite our desire for singularity’), this approaches the subject from an interestingly oblique angle, and is as much about the role and status of women in 1940s America as it is about the building of the bomb.

Nesbit writes with a light touch and an eye for telling details: the contrast between the jeans-wearing scientists and their military protectors; the aliases to be used in public for scientists such as Neils Bohr (‘Uncle Nick’), the growing list of forbidden words even when the women didn’t understand their meaning (‘fission’, ‘tube alloy’ as a code for plutonium) and the disconcerting barbed wire fence which reminded some of the women of concentration camps...

The tension after the uses of the bombs is especially well-conveyed, and the way American society moved from the post-war McCarthy era, to Vietnam and the anti-war movement, and the changing social role of women.

This is a short book but one which is beautifully constructed and paced. Some readers might find the use of the first person plural voice (‘we’) all the way through a little disconcerting but I felt that it worked very well to convey the sense of the women as a group as indicated in the title. This manages to pack more story, more detail and more nuance into a small number of pages than many more verbose novels do in twice the number of pages – recommended.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Terrifyingly Tedious 17 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Written in a strange collectively plural manner with reference to ‘we’ wives and ‘our’ husbands as entities, the story of ‘The Wives of Los Alamos’ is the everyday existence of the wives of scientists secretly working on American Government war projects. They arrive at Los Alamos in New Mexico from a variety of places, including Germany and Japan, to where they have to abandon everything previous, give up careers and assume new domestic roles to live in a secured military area where their names are changed and words are banned.

Narrative covers the period 1943-1945 during which life becomes tedious but there are pregnancies, births and social upheavals, and author TaraShea Nesbit skilfully introduces racism, snobbery and conflict with others at Los Alamos. The wives lose their individual identities as they struggle against water shortages, poor housing etc. and they resort to flirting, drinking etc. but emphasis is given to portraying resentment over secrecy and boredom. There is a degree of humour in the wives’ gossip with references to their loss of freedom and to what they cannot speak aloud or write in letters to relatives; yet whilst husbands work on some ‘gadget’ and in spite of constraints the wives forge a sort of community.

A terrifying quality of ‘The Wives of Los Alamos’ is how readers know what’s going on - they know the atomic bomb is being born. Behind the tedious pluralistic approach to could, should or would do and the could, should would not do by the wives, and in spite of silence from the husbands, this is the inevitable conclusion. An important element of ‘The Wives of Los Alamos’ is how they ponder and how they feel - proud, ashamed or confused - but definitely changed by the birth of the atomic bomb.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for history students but also anyone who wants to ...
A well told story which has been researched well. It gives the reader lots to think about around the making of the world's first atom bomb. Read more
Published 1 month ago by S. A. Broadhurst
1.0 out of 5 stars Dire and irritating contrived style
Dire. I only got a few pages in, skipped ahead to see if the writer could possibly mean to persist with the horrendous writing style. She did. I didn't. Avoid at all costs.
Published 1 month ago by Miss Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars A difficult read.
A difficult and tiresome read - not because of the subject matter but because of the way that it is written. Namely, in short sections/paragraphs and in the third person. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Lily
3.0 out of 5 stars FULL IMPACT MADE?
During WWII, with their husbands engaged in top secret work, wives at a remote New Mexico site are kept in the dark. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. D. L. Rees
4.0 out of 5 stars Experimental in style, but I enjoyed the book a lot
TaraShea Nesbit tells the story of the wives of the men who worked at Los Alamos. The novel chronicles how the families followed the mostly male scientists to the compound outside... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Annabel Gaskell
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting blend of fact and fiction, told with a unique voice.
With the events told within this book now on the edges of living memory, TaraShea Nesbit chose to tell this story using a collective voice. Read more
Published 3 months ago by A. I. McCulloch
4.0 out of 5 stars a fictionalised account of a very important time in history..
The Wives of Los Alamos written by TaraShea Nesbit for me was a very good read as it showed me a time in history which I really knew very little about. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Petra "I love to read"
4.0 out of 5 stars Their story
This is a very interesting and original book - it took me a while to get into the style of it, there is no heroine to this story but rather an elusive "we", the women who... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Angela
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Novel based on real events
The story is based on events that really took place in Los Alamos, New Mexico from 1943 to the end of WW2. Read more
Published 4 months ago by elsie purdon
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking debut
I do love historical fiction, especially when it is heavily based on real events and teaches me about a period or set of events that I didn’t know much about. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amanda Moran
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