So I’ve actually started reading books again … and I thought it might be fun to share thoughts on what I’ve read, for anyone who might be reading this blog. There will be a pretty wide variety of books reviewed here, from history to horror to graphic novels to maybe even the occasional cookbook. Enjoy!
I am very fond of history, particularly of the last 150 years or so. In grade school, I was always fascinated by the stuff at the back of the history book which we almost never got to. (Maybe it was because that if we ever did, it was in June, when the school year was almost over. Or maybe not.) In any case, when I happened to see Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City in the supermarket, it was something that appealed to me at once. I bought it and started reading almost immediately.
The book is about the development of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the “Atomic City” of the title; it was here that the uranium-235 for the first atom bombs was enriched to make it usable in the bomb, or “the Gadget,” as the author refers to it. Throughout the story, the secrecy of the project is constantly emphasized, and the author uses the euphemisms and code words that were used at the time (offering a glossary at the front for reference).
The story focuses on a small number of women, whose jobs varied from chemist to secretary to statistician to janitor, weaving together their lives before, during and after the war years. In a series of asides (marked not only as separate chapters but in a different typeface than the main narrative), aspects of the development of the atom bomb are discussed, focusing on several women whose contributions were often under-appreciated if not ignored in the day, and largely forgotten until now.
Kiernan writes in a very engaging, narrative style, relying on extensive interviews with her subjects to get into the heads of the women whose story she tells. We get to learn on a very personal level how each of them thought and felt about the many challenges of life as part of the biggest secret project the world has ever seen — challenges as mundane as the ever-present mud of Oak Ridge, psychological as being asked to spy on fellow workers, social as the segregation and racism which was as present in Oak Ridge as anywhere else in the America of 1943.
My only complaint is that in a number of instances, Kiernan builds up a story, leaves the reader hanging at a climactic moment, and then resolves the story in an offhand and incomplete fashion several chapters on. It’s a small disappointment in an otherwise excellent book.
If you have an interest in World War II, Americana, or women’s history, The Girls of Atomic City is well worth your time.
My rating: out of 5.
Buy The Girls of Atomic City from Powell’s Books by clicking this link!