The Girls of Atomic City

The Girls of Atomic City

The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

Book Club Kit - 2013
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In this book the author traces the story of the unsung World War II workers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents. This is the story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history. The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project's secret cities, it did not appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships, and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men. But against this wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work, even the most innocuous details, was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb "Little Boy" was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb. Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there, work they did not fully understand at the time, are still being felt today.
Publisher: New York, NY : Simon & Schuster, 2013
Edition: 1st Touchstone hardcover ed
ISBN: 9781451617535
1451617534
9781451617528
1451617526
9781451617542
Characteristics: 10 books + reader's guide in a cloth bag
Call Number: BCE

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OGBooktalk
Oct 23, 2017

on 2017 reading ballot

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IV27HUjg
Jun 07, 2017

Enlightening on US history & women's studies. We'll never see this kind of gumption again - at least not in my lifetime. It sure hits home how African Americans were treated, even as they worked for the same goal, plus all those who fought & died for this country.

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lcassity
Apr 12, 2017

So much history that was kept silent for so many years appears in this book in a style that makes the chemistry understandable for readers. The human side of the story is remarkable and points out again how good the Greatest Generation really was during this remarkable time of the people doing their best to shorter WWII.

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MelissaYAReader
Nov 22, 2016

I have been in a bit of a women's history mood. I read Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and then I went on to Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt. Both were wonderful books that outlined how some really intelligent women were responsible sending men into space. I looked forward to this book hoping for more contributions to women's history. This story was different from those other books, but still very interesting. These women were working away from homes on secret projects. They all had one specific job, but they couldn't tell anyone what they did for fear that the whole picture would be revealed. In this remote location in Tennessee, a whole town was built by the United States government to do work to end the war. The secrecy was stringently enforced, but at the same time these people were living lives, dating, and even marrying in this secret city. Who would have thought that that many people could keep that big of a secret. Interesting.

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shayshortt
Jun 30, 2016

After introducing the code name for uranium—tubealloy—in the opening pages, Denise Kiernan refers to it by that code name throughout the text, until after the Secret is out. The narrative actually begins with the revelation of the Secret, but then circles back to show how the eight main women Kiernan follows arrived at the Clinton Engineer Works (CEW). The chapters alternate between the women’s lives and work in Oak Ridge, and chapters about the science and history of the Manhattan Project—things the women in Tennessee knew nothing about at the time. This is part of Kiernan’s strategy of compartmentalization, designed to mimic in literary form the secrecy that the CEW employees operated under during the war. The view from within CEW is narrow and circumscribed, each woman confined to her own role. Talking about your work was forbidden, and anyone might be a spy. The Tubealloy chapters treat history and science more broadly, although the two begin to bleed together as the Secret comes closer to being revealed. Many other books have been written about the Manhattan Project, and these chapters largely retread familiar ground if this is not your first read on the subject. Full review: https://shayshortt.com/2016/06/30/the-girls-of-the-atomic-city/

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EmilyEm
Feb 13, 2016

Thousands of women eventually worked at the facility now known as Oak Ridge in Tennessee, many like the recent high school and college graduates Kiernan profiles. What they knew was they were helping to shorten the war, what they didn't know was they were enriching uranium to build the atomic bomb. Kiernan deftly weaves the story of these young women with the larger story of the talent, intrigue and politics that ushered in the atomic age. Pretty fascinating. For another book I loved that's set in this place and time read Marianne Wiggins 'Evidence of Things Unseen.'

FederalWayEdna Feb 12, 2016

Excellent hidden history of the patriotic and devoted young women who worked unbelievably hard and lived in appalling situations without question in order to help bring the war to a quick end. Albeit controversial, these women were heroes in their own right to the scientists, the military and politicians including Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. An excellent book group discussion book.

JCLJenP Jan 15, 2016

My book club chose this book, and few members finished it. The subject matter was fascinating, but the book itself was hard to get into. It jumps around between many people and points in time, and the author tries too hard to make an interesting story into something even more suspenseful and exciting, using long, flowery descriptions for mundane things.

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WCLSSumasLibrary
Jul 20, 2015

Fascinating look at Oak Ridge and the people who lived there. I enjoyed how chapters about the lives of the women were interspersed with technical chapters about the making and secrecy of the bomb. The book was a little longer than I felt it needed to be, but overall a good read.

ferritalelibrarian Apr 18, 2015

Though The Girls of Atomic City does some work to situate this history, mostly Denise Kiernen focuses tightly on Oak Ridge and the women working there. It uses a story telling format relying on extensive interviews with women who worked there, with a few brief interludes for more straightforward factual history. I found the writing a bit overly clever at times, often using cryptic phrases, acronyms, and styles that mimicked the secrecy of the situation but also made me a bit confused and lost.

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shayshortt
Jun 30, 2016

In 1942, the American government began buying up and seizing a significant amount of land in the hills of East Tennessee. This was nothing new for the locals; land had been taken from them by the government before, first for the creation of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and then again for the construction of the Norris Dam. And of course, that land had first been taken from the Cherokee. But this seizure was different. Fast and secretive, soon an entire town stood where there had been only a few scattered farmsteads before, a town guarded and secured by the military. And from all over the region, women began arriving, many of them living away from home for the first time. They had been offered jobs, but told nothing about them. They knew only that their purpose was to help bring about “a speedy and victorious end to the war.” For many of them, that was all they needed to know, when their other choice was to wait at home for brothers, and fathers, and lovers to return from the war. And most of them would not learn the truth until “Little Boy” exploded over Hiroshima, Japan, ushering in the atomic age they helped create.

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shayshortt
Jun 30, 2016

“She had spent years not knowing, wondering, sometimes guessing, and then giving up. She had accepted the need and duty to not know; and now this. Today, for no apparent reason, without any warning and out of the sweltering summer blue, came the Secret.”

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