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

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

Book - 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 : Simon & Schuster, 2013
ISBN: 9781451617528
Branch Call Number: 940.5308 KIERN
Characteristics: xvii, 371 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : map ; 24 cm
Notes: "A Touchstone Book"


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Jul 31, 2019

Good story but the authors attemp to be"clever" or "cute" greatly distracted. Would have been a much better read if better written. She has so much material - too bad she couldn't have used a better tecnique too write

IndyPL_SteveB Mar 01, 2019

In late 1942, the United States government created an entire secret city in the hills of Tennessee. Oak Ridge was not on any maps. 75,000 people lived there, including thousands of young women from across the eastern United States. It was the largest secret mission in history. It was, of course, the factory where uranium ore was purified to increase the content of a particular unstable isotope: U235. Thousands of tons were condensed down to a few pounds – just enough to help create the atomic weapons which were dropped on Japan in August, 1945, ending World War II.

This book focuses on the lives of ordinary workers, especially the young women, during the 1940’s and the extraordinary secrecy in which they worked. Along with this story, Kiernan weaves in the basic history of the Manhattan Project and the development of the ideas in physics which led to the splitting of the atom and the discovery of atomic energy – and the important contributions of two women physicists (Ida Noddack and Lise Meitner) who were left out of the Nobel Prizes and many of the history books.

Very interesting, although not well organized.

Dec 05, 2018

Let me just start by saying that Non-Fiction is not my normal preferred genre. I find most Non-Fiction dry and hard to get through due to authors who throw their opinions in where it should be facts. This book is not anything like that. The author is very adept at making the facts clear in a way that is easy to understand and interesting to read. If you're curious about the unknown history of the Manhattan Project, this book is for you.

Sep 07, 2018

This book tells about an important, yet secretive, chapter of US History and how women played such a big role. This book also talks about segregation at the highest level of government work. The best thing about this book is that it brings each woman's story to life first hand, rather than an interpretation of the facts. This is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read!

Oct 23, 2017

on 2017 reading ballot

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.'

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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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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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