Tuesday, November 5, 2013

this month's book group read: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, by Denise Kiernan

Touchstone, 2013
371 pp


If you are at all interested in women's history or in the history of America's nuclear program, The Girls of Atomic City should be one of those books that gets added on to and then moved up to the top of your tbr pile.  It is one of the most thought-provoking nonfiction books I've read in a long time.

Pretty much everyone knows the iconic figure of Rosie the Riveter, who symbolized the women helping out the war effort during World War II.  When the men went overseas, many of the women left behind were called on to do jobs previously done by men, and their work amped up production lines to keep the war going.   The Girls of Atomic City explores some of the women who also kept things going in a project located  in a facility in what is now Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one that was geared toward putting an end to the war.

 The women were trained to do only very specific tasks without understanding the overall project that their labors helped to create.  They were not allowed to talk about their work, nor were they allowed to question anything, and they never knew who might report them if they did.  The project was so secret that wives couldn't talk to husbands about their work, dating couples couldn't discuss their jobs, workers couldn't talk to families or friends on the outside, and  violations of that rule often ended up with people simply disappearing, never to be heard from or seen ever again.    The women, along with the majority of men working at Oak Ridge, had no clue at all that everything they did helped to contribute to the production of the atomic bomb that was used first in Hiroshima, and then Nagasaki.  It was only when the bombs were dropped that the news was released, and people finally realized what it was they'd been working on, with very mixed reactions.  In The Girls of Atomic City, the author examines the personal and professional lives of some of the women who called Oak Ridge home for the duration.  The book is definitely thought provoking and also provides a look inside the America of the WWII years.   

You can read about it here, on my nonfiction page, if you're at all interested.  Personally, I felt that it was sometimes flawed in the telling, but overall, it is an incredibly eye-opening and very fine work about something I'd never heard of before.  It most definitely sparked an excellent discussion with the group. 

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