Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan


The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
by Denise Kiernan
narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Audible Studios, 2013
12 hours and 51 minutes
source: purchased

Summary (from IndieBound):
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, and consumed more electricity than New York City, yet it was shrouded in such secrecy that it did not appear on any map. Thousands of civilians, many of them young women from small towns across the U.S., were recruited to this secret city, enticed by the promise of solid wages and war-ending work. What were they actually "doing" there? Very few knew. The purpose of this mysterious government project was kept a secret from the outside world and from the majority of the residents themselves. Some wondered why, despite the constant work and round-the-clock activity in this makeshift town, did no tangible product of any kind ever seem to leave its guarded gates? The women who kept this town running would find out at the end of the war, when Oak Ridge's secret was revealed and changed the world forever.

Drawing from the voices and experiences of the women who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, The Girls of Atomic City  rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of World War II from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. "A phenomenal story," and Publishers Weekly  called it an "intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history."


My thoughts:

The Girls of Atomic City  is an interesting book covering a largely unfamiliar aspect of 20th century history. While I'd heard about The Manhattan Project and Los Alamos, NM, I did not realize that facilities in Oak Ridge, TN were not only instrumental in producing the atomic bomb, the entire city was created solely for that purpose.

Kiernan explores the history of Oak Ridge and development of the atomic bomb through the experiences of women who traveled to eastern Tennessee to "help end the war". These women were scientists, statisticians, nurses, machine operators, and custodians. Once in Oak Ridge, an air of secrecy prevailed. Workers knew their own jobs and nothing more. They were not privy to the overall goal or purpose of the facility. They were not allowed to talk about their work with anyone and letters home were heavily censored. In many ways, Oak Ridge can also be viewed as a social experiment of sorts.

The book started off slowly, but I became increasingly interested as the women were introduced. Overall, I enjoyed their personal stories much more than the technical workings of the plant. As I listened to the chapter recounting the day the first bomb was dropped, goosebumps covered my arms and tears filled my eyes.

As various agencies decide how to best commemorate (spin?) the role Oak Ridge played in the war, the official history remains unwritten. Thankfully, Ms. Kiernan was able to take advantage of many primary sources... an opportunity which is becoming increasingly precious as time passes.

This audiobook was narrated by Cassandra Campbell, a personal favorite. As always, her pitch-perfect delivery enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

My rating:

30 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your review JoAnn. You have mentioned many great points about the book. I read/skimmed this book. There were very interesting parts and some that were slow moving. Overall though, a very interesting story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pat - Parts of this book were definitely duller than others, but without them the reader would miss some of the bigger picture. It's always easier for me to get through slower sections when I'm listening rather than reading.

      Delete
  2. I have this one as an audiobook and want to read it at the perfect time. Not sure when that will be. However, you are right that the primary sources for stories such as these are becoming scarce. Sadly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kay - It'll be hard to find a perfect time for this book, but I'm glad Kiernan was able to document so many of these stories.

      Delete
  3. I love Cassandra Campbell and I've been wanting to read this book so I'll definitely be searching out the audio version. I wasn't really aware of Oak Ridge, TN until I read the blurb for this book and it is fascinating. I love that the author really used primary resources though it is to bad it's slow at times. Audio sounds like the way to go for this one - especially with Cassandra Campbell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katherine - I think audio is the way to go with this book... Cassandra Campbell never disappoints. At least one of the women spotlighted died between telling her story and the publication of the book. I'm afraid the number may be higher now.

      Delete
  4. Mmm...this one does sound good. I like historical books that include women and their stories...far too often I feel like women have been forgotten. I hope this one reads as fast as it "listens". :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lark - I feel the same way and have long been interested in the role women played on the home front during the war. As a general rule, I prefer nonfiction on audio with a print copy handy for reference, photos, charts, graphs, etc. Think I may have gotten bogged down with this one in print.

      Delete
  5. I have had my eye on this book for a while and I want to read it.

    When I was younger my interest in science and World War II converged and I did a bit of reading about The Manhattan Project.

    This work really seems to look at the history from a different perspective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brian Joseph - This book definitely approaches the topic from a different angle! That's why I found it so appealing in the first place, but I ended up learning a lot, too.

      Delete
  6. This one is on my TBR and I feel like there are a couple books on this topic floating around...The Wives of Los Alamos? It's definitely an interesting side to the war effort and one I'd like to know more about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah - Yes, I think there may be some overlap with the Los Alamos book, though I haven't read it. In Atomic City, the focus was on women working in the plant, but I'm guessing the "wives" of Los Alamos were dealing more with secrecy issues and not knowing about their husbands jobs.

      Delete
  7. History and women combined and in a completely new subject for me. Sounds very good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mystica - I'd like to read more history told by the women who lived it!

      Delete
  8. I'm always interested in learning more about the contribution of women in wartime, and this looks really fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Monica - So am I! Would like to find other books about wartime contributions of women.

      Delete
  9. I have this one in print on my TBR pile. I grew up in the Tri-Cities, Washington, next to Hanford where they made something-something that went into the bombs. My family never worked in that industry but in the 60's and 70's while I was growing up, ATOMIC stuff was all over the place. The bowling alley? ATOMIC LANES. My husband's high school mascot? The BOMBERS. Etc. I feel I should have more of an interest in this book. But I feel like you mentioned--I might get bogged down in print.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Debbie - So interesting to hear how the atomic industry permeated the culture! Wonder if the same thing happened in TN after the function of the plant was no longer a secret.

      Delete
  10. I'm reading this one in print right now, so I was interested in your take on the audio edition! My mind tends to wander if I'm listening to someone read a book to me, since I tend to read a lot faster to myself than they do, but so far I'm finding the book pretty fascinating -- even if most of the information so far has been on the "social experiment" side of things. I picked it up because my father has worked in Oak Ridge, and I was always curious about what went on at "the plant," as locals call it. The secrecy surrounding it is definitely a draw to this book, so I look forward to learning a lot more, and I find the interspersed science-focused chapters quite intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Laura Roberts - Isn't that funny, but I think that all goes back to learning styles. I have a much easier time staying focused on audio than in print... especially when thing get a little too technical.

      The science sections really added to the book and I learned a lot. Although the women's stories were more interesting to me, I don't think the book would have been as good overall without the background science info.

      Delete
  11. This sounds very good! Thank-you for the great review, I'm moving this up my list of books I need to read this year. I especially like that your review says that it also has the women's personal stories in it as well as how this entire city was built for this purpose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Laura - It's fascinating (at least to me) to think that Oak Ridge, TN did not even exist prior to the project. Definitely a 'company town', I guess ;-)

      Delete
  12. This one is high up on my list and I guess it will work excellent on audio. It's amazing to know that a whole city was created just to build the atom bomb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Athira - I generally prefer nonfiction on audio... with a favorite narrator, it's even better!

      Delete
  13. I'm still a bit foggy on the productions aspects there. So perhaps I must read the book. It seems unreal all the people living with such secrecy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Susan - Some workers had an especially hard time dealing with the secrecy issues... doctors started noticing a pattern of mental health issues that they eventually came to consider occupational hazards.

      Delete
  14. This book looks pretty interesting, I've been eyeing it for a while. Though 3.5 stars makes your review look a little look-warm. I've never listened to Cassandra Campbell before. I'll keep her in mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hibernators Library - I enjoyed the book, but it will probably not make it to my favorites list at the end of the year. Cassandra Campbell narrates both fiction and nonfiction and always does a great job!

      Delete
  15. This book has been on my to-read list for a while and your review reminded me that I should really get to it. I love learning about the overlooked roles of women in history :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DoingDewey - So do I! Hope you enjoy this one.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

I understand commenting has been a challenge lately, so will now allow anonymous comments. However, I will moderate comments on older posts. Sorry for the inconvenience.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails