Our discussion of Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City isn’t until Friday but I’m enjoying this book so much I just had to make my normal post into a series, featuring this book, its talented author, and the incredible story of these women.
The book tells the story of the women that worked in rural Oak Ridge, Tennessee during WWII, completing what seemed to them strange and disconnected tasks. Many of them came to work there to be a “vital part” of the war effort and work on a project that would “end the war”- with little more information to go on than that. They left home, most of them barely out of high school, and went to a secret facility to do an unknown job that they couldn’t talk about. When they got there, conditions were…well, here is one account of a new employee, Celia, entering the Oak Ridge facility:
Construction went on in every direction. The fences had been some of the first things to go up, and crews repurposed the barbed wire taken from many of the farms and homes that had been moved off the land. Celia couldn’t see any sidewalks, only wooden planks laid over the newly excavated ground. There were some houses, virtually identical, sitting side by side and lining the dirt roads. There were larger buildings, mostly white, similar in style and shape, not like the brick and stone and shingle of every other town she’d seen, or the soaring concrete and steel of the city she’d just left. Though the town was brand-new–less than a year old–somehow the mud managed to make everything seem run down.
– The Girls of Atomic City, pg. 37-38
The conditions didn’t improve much and the secretive nature of their work never changed. But the work at Oak Ridge certainly changed the war and the women themselves. If you enjoy learning more about history, in particular the behind-the-scenes support operations that were vital for the completion of world-changing events, this book is for you. If you enjoy reading about brave and remarkable people, willingly jumping into unknown and strange circumstances, this book is for you. If you enjoy a good story, full of memorable characters doing normal, everyday activities in extraordinary times, this book is for you. Denise Kiernan creates all of the above in The Girls of Atomic City, The Home Book Club’s latest selection.
Later this week, I’ll post an author profile on Denise Kiernan, writer, journalist, photographer- a real Renaissance woman. You definitely want to check back to hear about her experience interviewing these women and researching this book. And join us here on November 22nd for what promises to be a great discussion about this remarkable story.