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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.
What did you like best about The Girls of Atomic City? What did you like least?
I like that it focused on the women who helped create the atomic bomb. I didn't like the way it was told. It was difficult to keep track of the characters as well as the science.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
The most interesting aspect of the story was how people dealt with uncertainty and the unknown. The least interesting aspect of the story was listening to some of the women's experiences.
Did the narration match the pace of the story?
Was The Girls of Atomic City worth the listening time?
19 of 19 people found this review helpful
I left this book in my wish list for a long time. The reviews are somewhat mixed, so I'm glad I took a chance on it. In order to set the stage for the story Ms Kiernan wants to tell there is some background information about scientific discoveries and events leading up to the need to build a facility to separate and purify uranium isotopes.
As a baby boomer I felt like I had some historical context for the events that lead up to the building of the Bomb. I had heard about some of the day to day hardships experienced by people on the "home front" with rationing and scarcity for all the people, and employing women in "Rosie the Riveter" jobs for the first time.
The vast majority of the book is based on interviews with women and men who were recruited to work at the "Clinton Engineering Works". It is told from their point of view. These individuals ranged from women college graduates with science backgrounds to recent high school graduates from nearby appalachian towns to army recruits literally pulled off troop trains bound for battlefield deployments. Many were recruited without knowing the location of the facility. Instead of a modern, clean facility, think mud with wood plank sidewalks.
Oak Ridge was literally built up around these recruits and shrouded in an unimaginable cloak of secrecy. All information about the jobs these people were hired to do was doled out on a need to know basis, so the vast majority had no idea that they were working on the bomb, even the girls who ran the uranium collectors and the chemists who assayed the product for purity.
I did appreciate the stories Ms Kiernan collected from the recollections of the day to day activities of these folks, many of whom had brothers in combat. She was able to record many of their reflections after learning that their efforts resulted in unleashing the destructive forces of the bomb. Just like others of their generation, these women and men are dying off. It's hard to believe that the American public will ever again mobilize to such an extent for any cause, so that makes these stories even more valuable.
The narration could have been better but did not detract from the audiobook.
34 of 35 people found this review helpful
there are many non-fiction books on Americans experience during WWII but none have affected me as much as The Girls of Atomic City. The author, Denise Kiernan, managed to take the readers though the exciting story of the highly classified race for the A-bomb while intertwining the lives of the women and men who worked at Oak Ridge. These men and women sacrificed much to help the war effort and im glad Kiernan has preserved their accounts for us to read.
This story stirred two conflicting emotions in me the reader. First, pride in what others before us have done and humility in the sacrifice they made in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Parents, add this book to your teenagers' reading list to supplement their American history studies.
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81 of 85 people found this review helpful
In 1642, Dutch Golden Age Master Rembrandt van Rijn completed "The Night Watch". The three most important subjects of the painting are in sunlight, and the other 31 people - the military company of the two men in sunlight - are shaded, using a technique called chiaroscuro. Someone looking at "The Night Watch" quickly would notice the featured soldiers and the girl watching them, but miss the other people in the background, who are doing very interesting things - and make up most of the picture.
When I listened to Denise Kiernan's "The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II" (2013) I realized that I knew about the stars of the atomic program - Robert J. Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, General Leslie Groves - but the whole story of making the atomic bomb has been in chiaroscuro.
Kiernan focuses on the women involved in the project, from Caddy (spelling may be wrong, since I was listening), a black woman janitor who worked overtime to help buy a B-25 bomber; unskilled high school graduates recruited from the surrounding area; well educated female statisticians and scientists who, before the war, had been discouraged from their 'unsuitable choices' for degrees; to Lise Meitner, a German physicist of Jewish descent who fled Nazi Europe whose research on fission was crucial to engineering the bomb itself. Clinton Engineering Works (CEW) was the operation of huge plants that extracted enriched uranium. One of the largest plants was built by woman-owned HK Ferguson, Inc, in just 66 days.
These accomplishments are astounding - especially for blacks and women who were paid less for doing the same jobs as white men, because, after all . . . Well, they could. That was as stupid then as it is now. I was pretty saddened to hear that blacks were segregated both from whites, and men from women - even if they were married. One black man, injured in an accident, had medical experiments conducted on him without his consent. A very well qualified black scientist wasn't sent to Oak Ridge because he would have had to live in a Hutment (shack).
"The Girls of Atomic City" made me realize that, like a quick glance at "The Night Watch," I'd missed most of the picture - and I didn't even know it. It's a great listen.
About the audio - well, I wasn't wild about Cassandra Campbell's narration. Her character narration was good, and I particularly liked the Italian accent she needed to use for some people. However, on the explanatory prose - well, there's no reason to elongate one syllable words interminably.
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84 of 98 people found this review helpful
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
In some way, yes. I liked the description of the women's lives, and how they had to live in Atomic City, but I found there were almost too many women to keep track of, and the secrecy aspect was pounded into my head. Halfway through the book, I had to mentally go back over which character was a farm girl, who was black, white, etc.
Any additional comments?
This is a good book if you get it on sale. Cassandra Campbell's narration was quite good, so if you're a fan of hers it's a worthwhile addition to your library. But on its own... I found it started off fascinating but then I just lost interest.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to The Girls of Atomic City again? Why?
Yes. I would listen again because I "raced" through it and probably missed some things. But I was so fascinated with the facts that I just wanted to move forward and learn more.
What was one of the most memorable moments of The Girls of Atomic City?
Well for sure I believe the most memorable moment of this book was when the bombs had been dropped and Japan finally surrendered. And then the "secrets" came to an end.
Have you listened to any of Cassandra Campbell’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Gosh, I have scores of books in my library but I am unsure if she is a narrator of others. I will check now that the question has arisen.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?
Secrets and spies in this American city that didn't exist...or did it?
Any additional comments?
I was enthralled with this book. I, of course, knew of the Manhattan Project and the bombings in Japan. But, I had never heard of this war time city that produced the atomic bomb. Of particular interest was the treatment of females and blacks and their contributions. I kept thinking this could never happen in 2014 with media investigations. And people just wouldn't accept those living conditions today. Imagine any female agreeing to take a train to an unknown location and to just "report" for an unknown job? Not today. It certainly was a different era. I was born in 1946, 14 months after my father returned from WWII fighting in Europe. I related to the Cold War atmosphere, hiding under our school desks in air raid drills. This was all very real to me. I will listen to it again, or perhaps purchase it for my husband to read.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful
Is there anything you would change about this book?
Less purple prose might be nice - human interest it may be, but the author still overdoes it in places. The narration is what affected my enjoyment of the book most. I wish narrators didn't have this idea that they need to imitate accents. This isn't voice acting.
Would you recommend The Girls of Atomic City to your friends? Why or why not?
I might recommend the print version because the underlying personal histories are interesting, but I would not recommend the audiobook.
Would you be willing to try another one of Cassandra Campbell’s performances?
I'd rather not.
19 of 24 people found this review helpful
I knew a tiny bit about Oak Ridge and its contributions during WWII, and I wanted to learn more. I also admire the important yet generally undervalued roles that women played in winning that war. This book covers a good portion of both subjects. I am glad that the author chose to tell much of this part of history through the stories of women who worked and lived at Oak Ridge during and, in some cases, after the war years. I was equally pleased that the author gave one of the best layperson-friendly explanations I have ever read of the nuclear enrichment process. Ms. Kiernan also does an excellent job of revealing how government control and secrecy were imposed during the development of the atomic bomb. Last but not least, her story lays out the truth about some chilling aspects of those times, such as secret experiments performed on unwitting American subjects, the coldly uncaring segregation of African-American workers, and the success of Russian spies in carting off US atomic secrets to their homeland. My only complaint re this audio version is about the narrator, Cassandra Campbell. Overall, she did a good job. Ms. Campbell has a pleasant voice. She avoided sounding overly dramatic and was never shrill. However, the pacing of her narration bothered me a bit. I would have preferred a more brisk reading--shorter pauses between sentences and paragraphs, and so on. The leisurely narration made me feel restless at times, wishing Ms. Campbell would ramp things up and get on with the story. Other than that, I very much enjoyed this book and will no doubt listen to some sections again in the near future.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
I have already recommended this book to someone else who is enjoying it as much as I did!
What did you like best about this story?
The book explained a whole new aspect about the making of the atomic bombs. It was a fascinating, personal, historical accounting of the people involved in the making of the bomb and the site where the bomb was constructed.
What about Cassandra Campbell’s performance did you like?
I just liked the narrator's emphasis and overall performance.
Any additional comments?
This book gave a wonderful insight into the minds of the many people who worked on developing the bomb, people who really had no clue what they were participating in except for the fact that their work would help end the war and bring our boys back home. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the civilian contributions to the war effort. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
I really wanted to like it but I didn't. It's a great concept but didn't end up being engaging.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful