The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan
The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

81%

15 Critic Reviews

An inspiring account of how people can respond with their best when called upon.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

Now a New York Times Bestseller!
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.


As heard on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition.
One of Goodreads' Most Popular Books of March 2013.
One of Amazon's Editors' Picks for Best Books of the Month (History)
One of Amazon's Editors' Picks for Best Books of the Month (Nonfiction)
One of Amazon's Big Spring Books (History)
 

About Denise Kiernan

See more books from this Author
Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese are the authors of Signing Their Lives Away and Signing Their Rights Away. Both are winners of Education Press Association awards. They live in North Carolina.
 
Published March 5, 2013 by Touchstone. 402 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, War. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Apr 14 2013
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Weeks as Bestseller
Bookmark Counts:
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Critic reviews for The Girls of Atomic City
All: 15 | Positive: 12 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Above average
on Nov 15 2012

An inspiring account of how people can respond with their best when called upon.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on Nov 26 2012

This intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history will appeal to a broad audience.

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Blog Critics

Excellent
Reviewed by Meredith Ann Rutter on May 03 2013

This review can’t begin to do justice to the story contained in The Girls of Atomic City. I’m grateful to Denise Kiernan for...all that she brought to this work of narrative nonfiction to give readers a larger picture...

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Examiner

Good
Reviewed by MICEALA SHOCKLEE on May 06 2013

With her most recent book, Denise Kiernan adds another trophy to her veritable literary collection.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Kim Ode Star Tribune on Mar 12 2013

Kiernan’s concentration on the women’s role provides a necessary focus to her account, and as a historical glimpse, “The Girls of Atomic City” is fascinating.

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Booklist Online

Good
Reviewed by Gilbert Taylor on May 29 2013

Kiernan snugly fits original research into the creation story of Oak Ridge and should engage readers interested in both women’s history and the background of the atomic bomb.

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USA Today

Above average
on Mar 03 2013

Kiernan is a thorough researcher and may have overstuffed this book a bit. Multiple chapters on the origins and science behind tubealloy — a code name for uranium — slow down the story.

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Jenifer B. McKim on Mar 20 2013

Kiernan says she spent years listening to their stories, inspired by their courage, sense of adventure, and dedication to recounting the past. With her book, Kiernan preserves these rich stories for future generations.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Virginia Pasley on Apr 29 2013

Kiernan’s telling of the women’s stories seems as effortless as if she had simply lifted the passages from their diaries.

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Open Letters Monthly

Good
Reviewed by Steve Donoghue on May 29 2013

The Girls of Atomic City can’t be anything more than a footnote-study in the literature of WWII, but it’s a hell of a lively footnote, well worth the time of every period aficionado – and plenty of general readers too.

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The Columbus Dispatch

Excellent
Reviewed by Margaret Quamme on Mar 17 2013

Her multifaceted account sets the experience of each woman within a larger picture and raises larger questions about work and society.

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Seattle PI

Excellent
Reviewed by Meredith Ann Rutter on May 03 2013

It makes you wonder what other kinds of things could be accomplished with that kind of determination, effort, and, not to mention, financial and political support.

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Science News

Good
Reviewed by Sid Perkins on May 16 2013

...the most interesting parts of this history deal with the social aspects of life in a bustling community so rife with secrecy that the local paper didn’t print the names of residents in its articles.

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Greenwich Patch

Below average
Reviewed by Gordon Hastings on Apr 12 2013

What Kiernan does not develop is the story of the enormous health hazards that these young women and everyone at Oak Ridge were exposed to every day.

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truthdig

Above average
Reviewed by Scott Martelle on May 02 2013

Fewer anecdotes, and more distillation and analysis, would have made this worthy effort much stronger.

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Reader Rating for The Girls of Atomic City
78%

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Kelli Garza

Kelli Garza 26 Oct 2013

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