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The Girls of Atomic City : The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
by Denise Kiernan

Overview - The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in US history.
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City.
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More About The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan
 
 
 
Overview
The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in US history.
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians--many of them young women from small towns across the South--were recruited to 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 of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war--when Oak Ridge's 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. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country's history.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781451617528
  • ISBN-10: 1451617526
  • Publisher: Touchstone Books
  • Publish Date: March 2013
  • Page Count: 373


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Historical - General
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Women
Books > History > Military - World War II

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2012-11-26
  • Reviewer: Staff

During WWII, Oak Ridge, Tenn., was one unlikely epicenter of the Manhattan Project, the top secret program that produced the atomic bomb. Selected in 1942 for its remoteness, the area, "a big war site" hiring at top dollar, immediately boomed; from across the U.S., tens of thousands of workers streamed in—many of them women looking to broaden their horizons and fatten their purses. Fully integrated into the system, women worked every job, from courier to chemist. They found an "instant community" with "no history," but also "a secret city... a project whose objective was largely kept from them." Living conditions were Spartan—urine samples and guards were intrusive constants—but the women lived their lives. Kiernan's (Signing Their Lives Away) interviewees describe falling in love and smuggling in liquor in tampon boxes. But like everyone else, those lives were disrupted by news of Hiroshima. "Now you know what we've been doing all this time," said one of the scientists. Many moved on; others stayed—Atomic City had become home. But for the women of Oak Ridge, "a strange mix of... pride and guilt and joy and shame" endured. This intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history will appeal to a broad audience. 16-page b&w insert. Agent: Yfat Reiss Gendell, Foundry Literary + Media. (Mar.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Forging new paths for women everywhere

A popular bumper sticker theorizes that well-behaved women rarely make history. While it’s true that sometimes swimming against the current is the only way to get where you’re headed, three new books show women making history in a variety of ways, from globetrotting, to taking on mysterious jobs, to smashing through political barriers—even if their behavior was sometimes less than ladylike.

ALL ABOARD

In 1889, Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days was hot stuff. So hot, in fact, that two New York publications sent female reporters on trips around the world to try and beat fictional character Phileas Fogg’s time. Matthew Goodman’s Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World recreates the race and shows how it shaped the women’s lives afterward. It’s also a dazzling tour of the world at a time when travel routes were just opening up; a look at sensationalist journalism and pop culture in pre-Kardashian America; and a testimony to how hard women had to fight to get work and achieve respect as journalists.

Bly perfected the art of traveling light for the sake of convenience, then went on a shopping spree in Singapore, after which she was saddled with a cantankerous monkey she named McGinty. Bisland, who agreed to race against Bly with less than one day’s notice, didn’t like the publicity that came with the challenge and squirmed at being hauled in rickshaws and sedan chairs, but she was otherwise a fearless competitor who continued to travel for the rest of her life. Their stories should inspire both writers and travelers today: If you finish this without laying out your own version of Nellie Bly’s one-bag, no-hassles travel case, don’t complain the next time you’re dinged $25 for an extra suitcase. She was vastly ahead of her time.

WOMEN’S WORK

The Girls of Atomic City details a story that seems impossible yet was true. Author Denise Kiernan brings a novelist’s voice to her thoroughly researched look at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a small city that housed 75,000 people, used as much power as New York City, yet didn’t exist on any map. During World War II, numerous women were recruited to work in Oak Ridge but were never told what their jobs were; each job was isolated from the others so a complete picture couldn’t be formed. All they knew was that they were working to help bring a swift end to the war. By the time anyone had figured it out, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been decimated and the war was over.

The story of the town is impressive and occasionally funny: Women disembarking from cars for the first time sank to their knees in mud, since there were no sidewalks built, and one resident persuaded a worker to make her contraband biscuit tins from scrap metal so as to avoid the cafeteria’s sub-par chow. There was camaraderie among the workers, yet everyone felt ambivalent about what they created and how it was ultimately used. Kiernan gives no easy answers, but the stories of the women will resonate with readers. If someone offered you double what you’re making now, would you jump on a train with no further information? That took guts.

HIGHEST CALLING

It’s great to look back and find undiscovered stories in our past, but the experiences of those who are still with us have much to offer as we go forward. Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice is Mary Robinson’s memoir. The first female president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights traces her political roots back to an early and radical questioning of her Catholic upbringing. Continually working and fighting for full inclusion on behalf of the poor and marginalized, she became a vocal opponent of U.S. President George W. Bush’s policies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When journalists questioned her outspoken stance and willingness to jeopardize her U.N. job, she writes, “I replied that this was the job; it was better to do the job than try to keep it.”

Robinson is unsparing about mistakes she’s made in her political career, and unfailingly gracious and grateful to her friends and family in these pages, which puts her tougher stances in perspective. A critical thinker and fine writer, her life story is a pleasure to read, and one that will certainly inspire generations of leaders to come.

 
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