The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
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"Denise Kiernan recreates, with cinematic vividness and clarity, the surreal Orwell-meets-Margaret Atwood environment of Oak Ridge as experienced by some of the women who were there: secretaries, technicians, a nurse, a statistician, a leak pipe inspector, a chemist, and a janitor."--DailyBeast.com
I love these kinds of books, and this is a great one....It s a phenomenal story. --Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
"The Girls of Atomic City" is the best kind of nonfiction: marvelously reported, fluidly written, and a remarkable story about a remarkable group of women who performed clandestine and vital work during World War II. Denise Kiernan recreates this forgotten chapter in American history in a work as meticulous and brilliant as it is compulsively readable. --Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City
"A lively story about the tens of thousands of women who made the bomb -- from the power-plant janitor struggling each day through the mud to the exiled physicist in Sweden -- "The Girls of Atomic City" offers a bottom-up history revealing that the atomic bomb was not simply the product of J. Robert Oppenheimer's genius, but also of the work of women at every level of education and class."--BrainPickings.org
Kiernan s focus is on the intimate and often strange details of work and life at Oak Ridge. It s told in a novelistic style and is an intimate look at the experiences of the young women who worked at Oak Ridge and the local residents whose lives were changed by the presence of the project. --The San Francisco Book Review
Fascinating ... Kiernan has amassed a deep reservoir of intimate details of what life was like for women living in the secret city, gleaned from seven years of interviews and research. ... Rosie, it turns out, did much more than drive rivets. --The Washington Post
Kiernan s book, the result of seven years of research and interviews with the surviving 'girls, ' sparkles with their bright, WWII slang and spirit, and takes readers behind the scenes into the hive-like encampments and cubicles where they spent their days and nights. "The Girls of Atomic City" brings to light a forgotten chapter in our history that combines a vivid, novelistic story with often troubling science. --Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"As most of us are all too aware, the generation who fought in World War II or supported the effort from home are leaving us -- their children, grandchildren, and greats -- to carry on without them. Thanks to author Kiernan, we hear from a group of that generation's women, now in their eighties and nineties, whose wartime experience matched no one else's. Ever. Anywhere."--Seattle Post-Intelligencer --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Denise Kiernan s previous book, "The Girls of Atomic City", is a"New York Times, Los Angeles Times, "andNPR bestseller", "and was named one of Amazon s Top 100 Best Books of 2013. Kiernan has been published in"The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, Ms. Magazine, Reader s Digest, Discover, "and many more publications. She has also worked in television, serving as head writerfor ABC s "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"during its Emmy award winning first season andproducing for media outlets such as ESPN and MSNBC. She has been a featured guest onNPR s Weekend Edition, " PBS NewsHour, "MSNBC s" Morning Joe, "and"The Daily Show"with Jon Stewart. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Kiernan tells the story primarily from the perspective of the young women who were recruited to work there, and focuses in particular on nine of them. Their narrative is interspersed with technical and scientific passages, all written clearly and simply for the lay reader, plus historical accounts of the events and policies shaping the progress of both the bomb and the war.
It's the very personal stories that make this book so compelling. At its peak, Oak Ridge, this self-contained community, housed 75,000 and covered 92 square miles. There was a diverse work force - single people, couples, families, black and white, scientists, specialists and young people fresh from high school - the average age being 27, so plenty of scope for romance! At the beginning conditions were inevitably primitive but with time a fully-functioning town developed, with shops, cinemas and sports facilities.
What is surprising is that this enormous facility remained completely secret. It showed up on no maps. Security was extremely tight. Outsiders had no access, whilst those within were sworn to complete confidentiality. And what is even more surprising is that few, if any, of the women knew what the ultimate purpose of their work was. Each had herown allotted task and no idea of the end product. They were forbidden from even discussing it.Read more ›
This theme carries on with the chapters about the technical progress of the project, which are presented in a different typeface (yuck!) to try and look more like engineering briefings, and the deliberate use of codenames throughout which leaves you constantly checking the glossary to see what is going on.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But, Denise takes a much more intimate and personal approach to telling this amazing story in Oak Ridge (where 60% of the approximately $2 billion "Project" was spent) using the eyes (and memories) of some of the working ladies who actually did the real work of separating uranium (without knowing it), checking the leaks in pipes (not knowing where the pipes went), keeping the statistical data, doing the hard work of a janitor, a chemist (who got closest to the "product") and secretaries who saw documents they could never discuss. This approach results in a more realistic telling of the day to day activities in Oak Ridge and the government sites of X-10, Y-12, K-25 and S-50. The intrigue springs from every page!
The stories of these nine ladies, (Helen, Colleen, Celia, Toni, Jane, Kattie, Virginia, Dot and Rosemary), each unique, yet each holding much in common, is bound together by Denise's wonderfully talented skill as a writer. She paints a composite picture of Oak Ridge and the Manhattan Project that will become a classic in the literature of this extraordinary historical accomplishment that has led to so many technological advances of the Nuclear Age.
This amazing world changing experiment was begun using many women from various backgrounds as workers. The interviews and detailed memories of the lives Denise touched while researching this book have produced more than a mere book, she has created lasting relationships with the last of the living who actually experienced something many cannot imagine. They were personally involved in what has been labeled the most significant military industrial scientific breakthrough in the history of the world.
Remember, these nine represent literally thousands of other women who worked just as diligently, just as courageously, to help win that awful war. Denise captures the grit, the determination and the resultant exuberance when their efforts produced that glorious peace stopping the killing.
Reading "The Girls of Atomic City" is a delightful and spellbinding tale that were it not true would be fiction of the highest order, but it is real...these women lived it. Denise has captured it.
The book is a must read for anyone who studies the Manhattan Project history or especially the history of Oak Ridge, TN, and who wants to share the insights of these women who were there when it happened.
The story of Oak Ridge, how its purpose and existence was kept a secret, and the development of the atomic bomb is fascinating by itself. What Kiernan does here though is add the stories of the regular people who knew they were working for the country's benefit and did so with blind faith and a patriotic purpose.
The book gives an excellent picture of everyday life in Oak Ridge and the lifestyles and people of Tennessee in he 1940s. Everyday life changed dramatically after the start of the war and we see the adaptions that all Americans had to make.
Of course they were also looking for jobs after the depression of the 30s but it would still take a strong resolve to work hard each day when the purpose and accomplishments are mysterious.
The stories of these women are so well told that by the end of the book I found myself wanting to find out where they ended up (those that are still living) and wanting to visit and talk with my new friends. The photographs in the book are just outstanding and truly make this book come alive.
This is not a deep intense study into the history of atomic science but a well told story of some women, who without knowing they were doing so, helped America finish a nightmarish World War.
The US government went into Oak Ridge and bought up a huge swath of land and basically built a city into which hundreds of workers were brought to work on "the Project." Most of them were women as most of the men of the country were off fighting the war. They signed agreements that they would not talk about anything they did, saw or heard while there. They were provided housing, food, etc. It was a virtual enclosed world. Each employee had a badge allowing them entrance at certain points and access to certain areas.
The book chronicles the stories of a representative number of the various women that worked there. Each woman's tale is told from how she came to Oak Ridge, to what she did and how she interacted with the other women in the complex. The stories are fascinating and I must say that I was pulled in by the foreword. Ms. Kiernan's writing is so inviting you don't feel you are reading a non-fiction book. The women's lives are so very compelling. I must admit that one of the things that fascinates me about WWII/post WWII society are the attitudes towards women. They were expected to get married, stay home, etc. Then the war came and the men went off to fight and the women did their part by going off to work and work well. Then the men came home and the women were supposed to forget all they did and go back into the kitchen. Really?
These women of Oak Ridge are a prime example of that. They helped to build the Bomb and and then what?
I loved reading about their lives before, during and after and Ms. Kiernan knows how to keep her reader turning the pages. I am keeping this one to read again. I was so enthralled I'm sure I missed something on the first read. It fascinated me, it scared me, it horrified me and it amazed me. Truth as they say, is stranger than fiction.