Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: The Girls of the Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

Kiernan, D. (2013). The girls of Atomic City: The untold story of the
women who helped win World War II. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. 
Using extensive interviews and a variety of other primary sources, Denise Kiernan reveals the history of the government-created town of Oak Ridge, TN, where uranium was enriched to create the world’s first nuclear weapon.  At its peak, the town had more than 75,000 workers living there, most of them young women, and in order to protect the secrecy of the project, nearly all of them had absolutely no knowledge of the project.  The government merely explained that they were working on something that would help end the war, and indeed they did.  

It’s a fascinating read: Denise Kiernan is able to balance the minutiae of life in Oak Ridge with the broader social and political issues at hand, and she also explains the science involved in a way that accessible and absorbing.  The book is really at its finest when it discusses the complicated emotions of guilt, fear, and pride that the women (as unknowing participants) felt after learning about the true purpose of the project and its consequences.

Submitted by Katie Kiekhaefer

Listen to an interview with the author on

Copies of this book at UW-Madison Libraries 

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