Review: The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan

Review: The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise KiernanThe Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II Pages: 373
by Denise Kiernan
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster on March 5th 2013
Length: 12 HRS 51 MINS
Buy on Amazon|Buy on Barnes and Noble|Buy on Audible
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Historical, History, Military, Women, World War II

The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb "Little Boy" was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.
Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there—work they didn’t fully understand at the time—are still being felt today. In The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan traces the astonishing story of these unsung WWII workers through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is history and science made fresh and vibrant—a beautifully told, deeply researched story that unfolds in a suspenseful and exciting way.


You know those movies that are all about conspiracy and government secrets?

The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Keirnan, tells the true stories from some of the women who participated, unknowingly, in one of the country’s, no, the world’s, biggest secret – the Manhattan Project.

I was drawn to this book for several reasons. One is that I love this period in US history. Second, I can see my grandparents living during this era and imagine what their lives might have looked like in their part of the country (Maine, if you’re wondering *wink*). I remember my grandmother telling me stories of roller skating on weekends and little dive bars where she would sing. My grandfather was a medic during World War II. While he didn’t talk much about his experiences, I would get a peek into his past whenever he mended a boo-boo on a knee (clumsy little thing that I was!). Lastly, girl power! I love a book that focuses on strong women!

During the period in history when the Nazi regime was basically trying to turn the world into its own version of Mordor, the United States government was busy putting together the best minds to create a device that wouldn’t just shake up the world, but end the war. They did it. We know it as the A-bomb, but back during planning and construction, the US government dubbed it The Manhattan Project.

Okay, I could go into an entire history lesson here on World War II and sprinkle my opinions on it like fairy dust! But I’ll save you from that 🙂 I also don’t think it’s fair to give you too much information about the book. Here’s my reason: This isn’t just a non-fiction book that chronicles a few biddy’s lives during their youth. It’s also not a sad tale of women being exploited or used. In fact, the women chronicled in this book who lived and worked in this secret city were strong! Strong enough to leave the folds of their homes and create a life and career for themselves in an entirely undisclosed part of the country.

My suggestion? Download this book to your e-reader, buy it in the store and listen to the details on the audiobook! It’s a non-fiction book that reads like a fictional story. Just wonderful! Here’s another nudge for you to scoot and own this book – there are a lot of books, movies, and theatre that focus on the experience of the male soldier, and I love them! But few give you the other side, the female side – ala Rosie the Riveter!

In short, I loved it!


The Rating Breakdown
Overall: four-half-stars

About Jam

I'm a writer and blogger from Los Angeles. If I'm not writing, then I'm reading. Somewhere in between all those words, I fit in time with my family. I also play around with photography, web design, and have a pretty cool collection of shot glasses. Visit the About page for more!

9 comments on “Review: The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan

    • You’ll love it Anne! I didn’t know too much about the whole Manhattan Project before this, and I was only vague about the part women played. This book really opened my eyes to how much ladies did on the home front – without knowing fully what they were working toward. Let me know what you think of it when you’re done!

  1. I’m definitely going to look into this one, this period of time is incredibly interesting to me as well, I remember asking my dad everything I could about it. Although now I feel totally out of it because I had no idea about this such involvement with the Manhattan Project! Nice review 🙂
    Alise recently posted…ARC Review: Things We Know by HeartMy Profile

    • Thanks Alise! I think a lot of people aren’t aware of this project, at least from the standpoint of the women who worked on it. I didn’t 🙂 I have a paperback copy and the audiobook and it was a pleasure in both forms. I have to say though, the paperback has some incredible photos! It’s one of those books to keep on the shelf after you’re done. I’d love to know what you think of it!

    • Hi Melissa,
      Thank you! I remember a commercial for Bomb Girls a year or so ago. I’ll have to put it on my “watch” list. I love this period in history too. I love the clothes and hair more! That’s me digressing into a teen girl 🙂

  2. Hey Jam…Love your blog…can’t wait to read the book. Like you, I also love that Era too. Thanks again. Til we meet again…Toni G.

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Ghost of a Chance, by Amy Patricia Meade - Dearest Jam

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