The Girls of Atomic City

By Denise Kiernan                                      Genre: Non-fiction
Reviewed by Natalie                                     4.5/5 stars

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“Women were powerful. And oh so necessary.”

I spotted The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan in Barnes & Noble and the tagline instantly intrigued me: “The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II.” I love discovering previously untold stories. Even better, I love reading about women who played a role behind the scenes; and without the women working at the secret factories of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the outcome of World War II may have been drastically different.

In late 1942, the US government broke ground on Site X in Oak Ridge, TN, the chosen spot for the mysterious factories enriching uranium. The thousands of men and women recruited to work there had no idea what they were producing. They only knew they were helping to win the war.

The Girls of Atomic City follows nine women from recruitment to subsequent employment at Site X. Each woman had a different role, from janitorial workers to secretaries to chemists. But each role, however mundane it seemed, required absolute secrecy. Spies for the US government were everywhere, ensuring no one talked about their duties – as spies for the enemy could be lurking anywhere. Giving any information about a job led to immediate termination. Could any of us in modern times maintain that level of secrecy? Or would we feel comfortable working in a job without full disclosure?

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Women monitoring calutron activity – the heart of the uranium separation process.

Although we know the outcome of WWII, Denise Kiernan still manages to weave a suspenseful story, while also skillfully mixing some heavy scientific detail into her narrative of the women’s personal lives. History usually mentions only Robert Oppenheimer, the laboratory director of the Manhattan Project; but Kiernan includes fascinating details about female physicists and geochemists who played a major part in the discovery of fission.

The girls of Atomic City were normal, everyday women, who worked hard, married, and had children. They may not have been CEOs, but their role in history was vital. With a story of fission and cyclotrons, rations and dances, Denise Kiernan successfully solidifies the place of these ordinary women into the annals of history.

Purchase The Girls of Atomic City

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