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The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win…

by Denise Kiernan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,326629,897 (3.64)77
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.… (more)
  1. 00
    Secret City by Julia Watts (lemontwist)
    lemontwist: It's pretty clear that Julia Watts read The Girls of Atomic City before writing Secret City.
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    White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages (jillian0128)

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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
I was reluctant to read this book after I picked it up at the library because I'm easily bored by nonfiction books. The subject was something I didn't know much about but was interested in so I decided to bite the bullet and start reading. I was pleasantly surprised at how this book was written. It doesn't read like a classic nonfiction book where the author just drones on about various facts. This read like a novel that followed the lives of the young women living in and around Oak Ridge. I did appreciate that there were separate sections that went more into detail about the tubealloy and the science behind the atomic bomb but even those chapters were intriguing and easy to read.

This is a great book to read if you've never heard of Oak Ridge or if you're someone who enjoys reading about the times during World War 2. ( )
  mplantenga11 | Jun 16, 2020 |
Enjoyable read. Only parts I didn't like were the extreme scientific chapters on "tubealloy." It's fascinating that people worked on this project and had no idea what they were creating. The sheer number of people (75,000) to run Oak Ridge during the creation of the atomic bomb was incredible. Good read if you like history. While it all took place during WWII, there are only touches here and there of the war. ( )
  amandanan | Jun 6, 2020 |
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan presents an unique insight into the highly classified Oak Ridge complex. She earned her BA degree from the Washington Square and University College of Arts & Science and her MA from the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development of New York University. She has written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Wall Street Journal.

The offices were relocating, and he explained he needed to know if she would go along with them.
“Where are we going?” Celia asked
“I can't tell you.”
Celia wasn't quite sure what to make of the and pressed a bit...
“It all depends on how far away it's going to be.” she tried to explain
But Vanden Bulck still would not say. All he would tell her was that the move was for an important project and the destination was top secret.

The Girls of Atomic City starts like a spy novel. Good job, high pay, secret compound, spying on your friends, loyalty, censorship, it's all there and all true. It's The Project, The Gadget, (element)49, and Tubealloy. Locations like Y-12, K-25, X-10 and S-50 add to the mystery. General Groves, Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Niels Bohr make their appearances. The real story, however, is the young women who left their homes and families and joined(unknowingly) the Manhattan Project.

The book is very well written and follows the daily lives of the women in the complex. It tells of their jobs, which they had no real idea of what they were contributing to. Some were tasked with the separating U235 for U238 using one of the three separating methods. They knew where to keep the gauges and how to control them, but they were labeled simply with letters and color coded. It wasn't until after the atomic bombs that the residents knew what they were actually working on.

The book periodically leaves the women’s stories and fills the reader in on the mysterious Tubealloy and 49. Tubealloy was uranium and 49 was the code for plutonium. Inverting the atomic number of plutonium, 94, it was simply known as 49.

The social life for the women was a mix of freedom and confinement. Away from home for the first time and with a well paying job meant freedom. The complex on the other hand was was segregated (not only racially). Women were quartered separated from the men, this at times even applied to married couples as housing was short. Demand out paced supply in housing. No one could talk about their work, the complex or anything relating to Oak Ridge (in fact Oak Ridge did not officially exist until 1949).

The Girls of Atomic City presents personal look at the secret Oak Ridge complex during Word War II and the women who worked there. The book covers an important piece of World War II history and also woman's history. Kiernan writes an excellent history. Her work is clear and informative and backed over thirty pages of documentation. An great read for anyone interested in WWII history, women’s history, or super secret government projects.
( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
What a fascinating read! Oak Ridge is somewhat local to the area in which I live, so I found this book to be very interesting. I’ve always thought I’ve known the history, or at least most of it, and was quite surprised to find that I knew very little in regards to the role of women in such an historical event. This was an amazing read, was well written, and was far from dry. ( )
  BookishHooker | Dec 16, 2019 |
As part of my attempt to widen my reading scope, I started on the non-fiction journey with this book. From the synopsis I felt it would cover a lot of my interests; WWII, women’s roles during that time and the uncovering of a war work that was kept secret at the time.

In a lot of senses this book did hit all those things on the head, but it still felt lacking in a way that I could not quite put my finger on. Covering a variety of young, and not so young, women from a variety of societal and ethnic backgrounds this book managed to paint a very real picture of what life must have been like living and working on a top secret compound in the middle of nowhere. Although no one woman’s life was written about in detail and depth, I felt that this did not detract from the book in any way as I felt to have done so would most likely have resulted in the omission of something else.

In this books pages the reader can learn about the process of both thought and scientific work that led up to the deployment of fat man and little boy, and the scientific parts of the book that traces the journey and developed of tubealloy, as it was called, is informative and educational without being dry and dusty; not being a chemistry or engineering buff myself I found I learnt a lot from these parts of the book.

There are some wonderful black and white photographs in this book that help illustrate the vastness of the place called Oak Ridge, and also some then and now pictures of three of the women mentioned in the book. It would have been nice to see some now pictures of the site to see what had become of the place rather than have to do an internet search to satisfy my curiosity.

It is apparent from the way in which the book is written, that the Author spent an extensive amount of time research the topic and talking with those who were there at the time; I wonder if my feeling of something being lacking in its pages, and the reason for my 3 thumbs review, being a result of some information that would have filled these ‘gaps’ still being sealed to the researcher. Another reason for my 3 thumbs review was the random and rather silly typos that appeared in the book. These could easily have been picked up by a more skilled proof reader and editor, and lifted my review rating.

Despite the low rating I would still recommend this book to any reader interested in this era, and wanting a satisfying and easy read.

Originally reviewed on: http://catesbooknuthut.com/2015/01/23/review-the-girls-of-atomic-city-the-untold...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
( )
  TheAcorn | Nov 8, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Denise Kiernanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lee-Mui, RuthDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serrano, ErvinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Westcott, James EdwardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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(Introduction) There have long been secrets buried deep in the southern Appalachians, covered in layers of shale and coal, lying beneath the ancient hills of the Cumberlands, and lurking in the shadow of the Smokies at the tail end of the mountainous spine that ripples down the East Coast.
That morning, the excitement coursing throughout the complex known as the Castle was infectious.
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They came from all across the US, to a city not found on any map. They were forbidden to talk about their work, even to each other. Racing against the clock to save their country, what they created would change the war-and the world-forever. At the height of WWII, Oak Ridge, TN, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than NYC. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians-many of them young women from small tows across the South-were recruited to work in this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature to work they preformed each day, in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war-whern Oak Ridge'sd secret was revealed. Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it-women who are now in their eighties and nineties-The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. (ARC)
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