Thursday, June 20, 2013

What We're Reading: World War II America

Girls of the Atomic City: The untold story of the women who helped win World War II, by Denise Kiernan

America needed a weapon to help end World War II. The “gadget” was it, and it needed “product.” The United States government acquired land in nowhere Tennessee that became the Oak Ridge Reservation. They ultimately hired 78,000 people to work there – few (if any) knew what was being made. Each person had his or her task and did it without asking questions – you didn’t know who was an informant, and if you did say something, you might disappear, to who knows where?

This book follows several women's experiences while working at Oak Ridge: their hiring, how they lived, their boyfriends and husbands, and finally how they felt on August 6, 1945, when the purpose of what they were doing became clear. It also includes a history of the discovery and development of atomic power and its presence in everyday 1940s life. Hundreds of tons of uranium ore was stored in plain sight on Staten Island; nuclear fission experiments were held on the tennis courts at the University of Chicago; enriched uranium was sent by passenger train to New Mexico! While sometimes a little dry, this book gives a fascinating look into wartime America and its attitudes.

Reviewed by librarian Chris Rodriguez

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