Friday, January 13, 2017

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

Reveals little-known part of history of the making of the bomb

This history of a time just prior to the end of World War II, told in narrative style, spotlights the story of a town called Oak Ridge, in Tennessee, that was created by the U.S. government after the forced relocation of Americans who had lived on the land for generations. Temporary housing was hastily erected and large buildings were constructed where the secret work would take place. Americans looking for work – including many women – were recruited, but they were told only that they would be working on something that would help end the war. This book provides historical details about several of the women who were hired in different capacities, from janitor to physicist, from secretary to statistician. It was sometimes hard to keep track of each of their individual stories.

Girls of Atomic City documents how these women, and others at the site, assisted in the making of the atomic bomb, which was nicknamed “The Gadget.” They were kept in the dark about the exact nature of the work until after the atomic bomb was dropped. They were strongly directed to stay silent about their particular jobs. The secrecy of the government, including the recruiting of some workers to spy on others, government control over media reporting, and signs posted reminding workers to stay quiet about their work and inform on anyone who wasn’t, is a chilling reminder that there is a lot more going on than what gets reported in the news. The details surrounding the bomb test in New Mexico are fascinating, as are the details of how different individuals felt, morally, about the bomb, and what information the president did (or didn’t) have when making the decision whether or not to use it. There’s also a section about some unethical human testing that was done at the site that turned my stomach. It’s a pretty powerful read with a lot of little-known (to me, anyway) details about this particular segment of history.