28 March 2013

The Girls of Atomic City; Denise Kiernan

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War IIThe Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a member of the committee that gave Bomb the award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, a book about the women working in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on enriching uranium was a Must Read! The story of the people who actually did the grunt work couldn't help but be interesting.

This is somewhat sprawling, starting with a cast of characters and pseudonyms ("Tubealloy" and "Site X") to help readers keep track of people. Then we start to meet the women, from different walks of life - from local gals just out of high school to black cleaning women to college graduates and internationally known scientists - that helped with the project. In all cases they didn't know what they were working on, although one or two figured it out thanks to their role in the process. By the end, after the bomb was dropped on Japan, their relief in being able to talk about what they were doing (and where!) is palpable. How the pieces and people came together, how the government created a "town" of over 80,000 people yet kept it all a secret is fascinating.

What dropped this from a 5 to a 4 star were two things. First, when talking about the letter that Einstein famously wrote to Roosevelt about the bomb and the war effort, the author claims that Slizard met Einstein in Princeton. While it's true that Einstein was at Princeton, when the two met to discuss this it was on Long Island (where Einstein was on vacation). Second, there were often very long digressions into other areas of the war that just added to the length of the book when that space could have been spent focusing more on the women. At times I thought this might have been a YA book because of the writing style, but it's for adults.

ARC provided by publisher.

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