109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos
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109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  510 ratings  ·  112 reviews
Conant, author of the bestselling Tuxedo Park, offers a human look at the brilliant physicists who for more than two years, along with their families, lived, laughed, despaired and rejoiced in a secret, sequestered, for some claustrophobic city in the New Mexico desert. Despite its grand name, 109 East Palace was the nondescript office in Santa Fe that served as a gateway...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 26th 2005 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2005)
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Jul 16, 2009 Mahlon rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Anyone who likes history from a woman's perspective or WWII
Recommended to Mahlon by: Amazon
Shelves: read-2009
109 East Palace by Jennet Conant offers a fresh look at the story of the Manhattan Project, America's secret effort to build the Atom-bomb which eventually ended WWII. The author decided to tell the story through the eyes of Dorthy Mckibbion, who ran the project's office in Santa Fe, and the wives and children of the scientists who worked on "the hill" as the residents quickly took to calling Los Alamos. Conant also discusses how the people of Santa Fe reacted to the changes that WWII brought to...more
This is history made human - I really appreciated that Jennet Conant didn't end her storytelling with the Trinity Site Test or at Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

The reader learns the shape of the land that would become home to Robert Oppenheimer's group as they raced to build the bomb. We come to know the story of many of the project's personalities, struggles, and achievements. What is exceptional about these stories is the way they weave together and include frank looks at the pre-war and post-war live...more
What first struck me about this book was that it was so readable. The first chapter paints a beautiful picture of “father of the atomic bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer’s first meeting with Dorothy McKibben, a laid back Santa Fean who would become “the gatekeeper” to Los Alamos. Through Dorothy’s eyes, Conant shows us the story of Los Alamos, the scientists who came there, and the atomic bomb — and the charming man behind it all, “Oppie.”

I am familiar with much of the stories surrounding wartime Los...more
Having lived in Santa Fe and visited Los Alamos on a number of occasions, this book was particularly interesting to me. It gave a close up look at the many individuals who developed the Atomic Bomb, particularly Oppenheimer and his public relations aide, Dorothy. There is quite a picture of how these people tolerated (mostly with heavy drinking) the privations of isolation from family, poor living conditions, and crisis of conscience after the bomb. It was interesting to note the difference in t...more
Benj FitzPatrick
As the first order of business I'd like to give this novel 4.5 stars. With that finished we can move on to the more interesting bits. For having grown up in Los Alamos and working at the national lab for 5 summers I know shockingly little about the town's war years. In fact, this was my first foray into reading a book detailing the Manhattan Project. I will try to keep the nostalgic influence for my childhood home to a minimum. My initial realization during the first hundred pages was how well C...more
Kristal Cooper
This is the story of the first atomic bomb, told biographically by piecing together memoirs of many key players from 1940s Los Alamos. The idea was surely inspired by the fact that the author’s grandfather was an administrator for the Manhattan Project, so he knew everyone and eventually shared some of the stories with his family.

The problem is that physicists and professors just aren’t very interesting people. The first 100 pages, as the "characters" are all introduced, was some of the most dre...more
About 18 months ago, we visited Los Alamos, New Mexico, as part of our "out West" trip. It's the city located high on a mesa in the middle of the desert, formed solely to work on creating the bomb that ended WWII in the 1940s. I was totally fascinated by the place, and this is the 2nd or 3rd book on the topic I've read since.

"109 East Palace" is so named because that's the address of the office in Santa Fe where all the folks hired to work at Los Alamos went when they first arrived. Inside the u...more
This was a bargain table book. What a find! It was written by the granddaughter of James B. Conant, administrator of the Manhattan Project.

Although I was too young to remember this time in our history, I have always had an interest in WWII. I really enjoyed this book...the story of Los Alamos, NM and the secret project to create an atomic weapon. The 'behind the scene' relationships between scientist, military personnel, civilians, and government lend a personal aspect to the story. The familial...more
Most interesting book. A tad hard to get into at the outset, but by the middle of the book you felt like you were living on that high plateau with the wind constantly blowing! I think part of the hesitation was my fault, because I thought it was going to be a fictional account, so the painstaking research that the author did surprised me. Nora Gallaher wrote Changing Light, about a scientist who "escapes" from Los Alamos after he learns that the bomb won't be used against Germany but instead aga...more
Catherine Hurst
This is a riveting story of the building of the bomb at Los Alamos 1943-1945. Since my Dad had the opportunity to go on the Manhattan Project (and decided against it) and I currently live in New Mexico, I found it personally interesting as well. Great characters brought to life and very thorough research.....

I was fascinated by the two "lead characters"--Robert Oppenheimer and Dorothy McKibben. It sounds like Oppenheimer might have been the only guy who could have pulled this off, and I am horri...more
This is an excellent book on the..social...aspects of the Manhattan Project, giving good insight into the obstacles faced by J. Robert Oppenheimer as he shepherded a large group of scientists toward the goal of designing a nuclear weapon. While other books have been written on the science of this effort, this is the best description of the human effort that went into the project - particularly on the problems faced by the scientists and their families while living in isolation in Los Alamos. Opp...more
Truly fascinating. A great history professor recommended this book and 5 years later I finally got around to finishing it. It's a little dry and long winded in some parts but she does a brilliant job humanizing the players.

My grandparent's home is on Palace Ave in Santa Fe, and I love reading about this tiny corner of the world during one my favorite historical periods. I have also been to Trinity Site, and there's this energy that hangs in the air there, It's very electric.

I think Oppenheimer...more
Adam Smith
Fascinating account of the people involved in the Manhattan Project. Conant describes the surreal and extraordinary efforts involved in keeping the project a secret and the culture clash between the scientists and the military, largely through the eyes of Dorothy McKibbin (the woman who maintained the small office in Santa Fe that served as the portal to "The Hill") and reflected in the stories about Robert Oppenheimer. The story is extremely well told, without heavy handed political bias or jin...more
Carol Catinari
In light of my new found interest in all things New Mexico, I got this book on cd. So far, very interesting. Just the assembling of the team and the personalities involved is already engaging. On my next trip there, I hope to visit Los Alomos.

The "next trip there" has come and gone, and I did visit Los Alamos. The book added to my interest in L.A., and L.A. added to my enjoyment of the book....
Cool assemblage of stories about working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project. Makes me ponder: what if my calling in life was to build the most horrible/destructive weapon imaginable?
Of the great deal of historical ink spilled on the Manhattan Project, Jennet Conant does perhaps the most humane job of portraying the complexity and nuance of daily life in the idiosyncratic, secret suburb that gave birth to the world's deadliest weaponry. By grounding her account largely in the experiences of Dorothy McKibben, the reader is given a unique point of view on those living at the frontiers of science, top-secrecy and the American West during WWII. Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's 'Ame...more
J. Slowik
Engrossing, engaging. This has more heart than a lot of non-fiction, although it's occasionally written in mechanical, journalistic prose (i.e.: Here's a fact. Here's a quote to support that fact. Etc.) It illustrates a lesser-known part of the Manhattan Project, though, namely the experience of non-scientist residents of Los Alamos-- wives, children, support staff. All about the management of a secret city with a dark purpose.

My favorite part had to be Richard Feynman's antics. Subverting camp...more
Bethany Zimp
I liked the idea behind this book - to look at the history of the making of the atomic bomb through the creator's wives' eyes. It probably deserves a slightly higher rating, as I certainly learned plenty from this text and loved all the historical anecdotes and interesting stories. This book took me forever to read, because sections were so dry I had to set it down for weeks in between chapters. The author (appropriately) references hundreds of other texts on this subject leaving me to wonder if...more
Enjoyed reading about this era, which transcends a personal gap. History ends just before a person is born. Then there is a void, followed by the current era, which is present, not past, and which cannot be viewed objectively. My personal History ends with WWII, and then there is the void period - my gap - and then there is what I know and remember for myself, and have no objectivity about. This book transcends what I know about the history of WWII, informs my understanding of what happened just...more
109 East Palace provides a succinct account of how the a city of Los Alamos came about and how through that city the atom bomb was developed. The story of the atom bomb is one of the most fascinating in history from all points of view (history, military, science, political) and there is no doubt that Richard Rhodes provides the definitive account on the matter. What I find refreshing about Connat's book is that it takes a more humanistic view and shows how the people working on the bomb were aff...more
Timothy Caldwell
I visited Los Alamos this summer because I knew that the atomic bomb was developed there. That was before I read 109 East Palace. Conant has taken what, for other writers, might be dry history and turned it into a beautifully written, captivating story of the fears and struggles to create the bomb. It is a love story as well–in the purest Platonic sense–between the two main characters: J Robert Oppenheimer and Dorothy McKibbin, the gatekeeper for the project.

McKibbin is one of those people who...more
This book is incredibly readable and in at least the first half, provides an great story about the founding of Los Alamos, the logistics and personalities, and general miracle that anything was accomplished. I enjoyed the introduction to Dorothy, who appears to have been a saint to have put up with all that she did. Her passion for New Mexico and devotion to the project were impressive. I enjoyed learning about Groves and the other personalities that were part of the project, and found Oppenheim...more
This book is about the building of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, NM. I thought it would be more of a novel but it was more of a history book (lots of stories and facts taken from the biographies and interviews of the people who were there). After I got used to that, I enjoyed the book a lot. Though I wanted to know more about the science, I appreciated the human aspect of the project. I had no idea what life was like in Los Alamos during the war. I have a new respect for everyone involved. At t...more
This is a good book to read to get a perspective on what went on at Los Alamos during Manhattan Project. As noted by othe reviewers, the book does not contain a lot a scientific information/background. However, it provides interesting accounts about Oppenheimer's amazing, brilliant, and charismatic personality. People like that are phenomenon in the entire human history and are born few in between. So every memory, account of this man is important to preserve. Some portions of the book are more...more
This book contains the information I've been looking for: the who, what, where, why and when of Los Alamos. There are some slow and tedious pages at the beginning and at the end, nevertheless, the book is an excellent resource. Jennet Conant captures the emotions and the hectic pace that went into providing housing, laboratories, security, and infrastructure for the new city, built from scratch, thrown together by the Army for the sole purpose of developing the atomic bomb before Nazi Germany. M...more
The gripping and well-written back story of Los Alamos. Told mostly through the lens of Dorothy McKibben, the gatekeeper, and Oppenheimer. Many of the people who went there and arrived in Santa Fe did not even know where exactly they were going (Los Alamos), but were just told to go to 109 East Palace in Santa Fe. McKibben handled all the complicated logistics competently and in good humor.
After taking over a boys' camp, Los Alamos was a city built quickly and at first everything was muddy and...more
The directorship of Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, New Mexico near Santa Fe for the development of the nuclear bomb, aka the Manhattan Project, and the concurrent running of the gateway to the secret city by Dorothy McKibbin in the non descript 109 East Palace office in Santa Fe

Good working relationship between the scientists (led by Oppenheimer) and the military (led by General Groves)

Interesting information about the development of the Trinity test site, the political and moral ramification...more
The authors purpose for writing this book is information. The book was like reading a novel because you were always wondering what was coming. The book contains how people wanted to hide what was really going on at the secret place to build a nuclear weapon. The author writes this with the lines of a historical novel. The story is told from the point of view of Dorthy Mckibbion who is the head of projects office in Santa Fe. He describes what is going on at the base and what is being worked on....more
Ms. Conant draws on interviews with some of the key players, and on personal and other sources, to fashion a warm, readable account of the initiation and development of the Manhattan Project. She captures the power and weaknesses of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the charismatic leader of this project. Underrated at first, Oppenheimer managed to provide inspiration and direction to a disparate group of scientists and an ultimately large supporting cast, and in the end to produce the awesome weapons whi...more
Lynn Mcalister
Non fiction is not really my genre of choice, but this was very interesting and entertaining. I learned so very much about the making of the Atomic bomb, but also about day to day life.There were so many minute details to be thought out, such as the need for a pediatrician. Who knew?
Would recommend this book.
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Jennet Conant is an American non-fiction author and journalist. She has written four best selling books about World War II, three of which have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Asia and America, she received a BA degree in Political Theory from Bryn Mawr College in 1982, and double-majored in Philosophy at Haverford College. She completed a...more
More about Jennet Conant...
The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II

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