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

3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  7,207 ratings  ·  1,097 reviews

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...more
Hardcover, 373 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
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The Library Lady
If you read my reviews (and thanks if you do) you know that I virtually NEVER give a book 5 stars. Few books deserve it.But I am breaking my own rule on this one.

Most of the adult non-fiction I have read in recent years has been pretentious, badly written and highly overrated by reviewers. And this one is outstanding. From the first page, it reads like a well written novel--only it tells a true story.

It's the story of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city created by the government to develop the atomic...more
Katherine Hunter
This is the story of women who went to work in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during WW2. I liked the subject, I thought it was interesting. But these women's stories were told in a bare bones sort of way. I never felt like I got to know any of them. I certainly didn't get invested in anyone's story. Each person's story is spread over the whole book and elements pop up without much of a connection to other parts. Keeping track of the main people was not straight forward as some showed up once and then wer...more
Nate Capone
Overall a pretty good, informative, and entertaining book about a part of American history that is pretty much all but forgotten... and unknown.

The book is more a series of short stories from different women that are somewhat interwoven together over their tenure in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Like a lot of short stories, you fail to really connect with any of the characters other than just finding out random bits of information that compose their daily lives over their interesting and puzzling pasts....more
Five stars for subject matter, three for execution.

I'm always happy to read histories that focus on women, typically left out of war narratives. Add to that the fact that my grandmother was one of the "girls" of Atomic City, and you can see I was eager to read this book. My mother has said that the only thing my grandmother ever said on the subject was that everyone dated a lot during their time in Oak Ridge. The subject matter was fascinating, but unfortunately I keep getting caught up by sent...more
Mar 20, 2014 bookczuk rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to bookczuk by: Nancy Oakes
My father was a pathologist, with an interest in oncology. He was a pioneer in the work towards a cure for leukemia, and his quest took him on many unique journeys. He had this idea that you could inject an isotope into an infected guinea pig, and be able to read the path of the disease in the animal's body. He worked for the National Institutes of Health, and it was his resources there that allowed him to drive the family station wagon out to this place in Tennessee, and pick up a substance to...more
Jun 18, 2013 Joseph rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: war
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan presents an unique insight into the highly classified Oak Ridge complex. She earned her BA degree from the Washington Square and University College of Arts & Science and her MA from the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development of New York University. She has written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Wall Street Journal.

The offices were relocating, and...more
Jul 04, 2014 Chrissie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Chrissie by: Judy
I liked this book a lot, so four stars. It is interesting, well told and easy to follow. Although filled with facts it is never dry or boring. The scientific details are well explained so any lay person can understand. It is about the creation of Oak Ridge, Tennessee - a city created to produce the first atomic bombs' fuel source. This book not only follows the historical facts surrounding the creation of this fuel source but also the creation of the city where the people employed to do the firs...more
Larry Bassett
This was a secret government project during World War II. The goal was to create a weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, a part of the Manhattan Project.

There is a website: Included on the site is a one hour video of an interesting presentation by author Denise Kiernan at NYU shortly after the book was published in 2013.

The project site included tens of thousands of acres of land that was taken by the federal government via the eminent domain process in...more
Clif Hostetler
This is the story of ordinary people in extraordinary times, skillfully written to make the story unfold before the reader much like a novel. It’s the story of life in a secret city with a population of nearly 80,000, built within a year (1942-1943), on what had been farm land, and very few of the inhabitants and workers had any knowledge of the purpose of the place. And as the title indicates, many of those living there were women, and this book features their life and experiences.

This is the s...more
Apr 03, 2013 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Chelsea, Jeanette, PetraX, Chrissie, Gaeta, Cheryl (Pennsylvania), BarbaraC
What an excellent book! I haven't anticipated reading a new book so much since I read The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo last year. Both are excellent books, but I would give the edge to this one.

Kiernan introduces the reader to nine unique ladies who worked at Clinton Engineering Works under the cloak of secrecy. One lady, Celia,a government worker, was transported to the plant from New York City by train at night. She had no idea where the train wa...more
Apr 18, 2013 Aaron rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, WWII enthusiasts, feminists
Per FTC rules: I received a free copy of this book as a giveaway from Goodreads First Reads.

What an outstanding read! I've made a point of contacting the author to let her know what a great book this was, and it certainly is the best book I've read this year.

This story, based on interactions and interviews with the women who worked (and lived) at Oak Ridge, is truly remarkable in both its telling and its creation. It seems almost fictional for those of us who grew up in a world where nuclear en...more
The book was interesting but not what I expected. I thought it was going to be more of a biography of women who had been directly and indirectly involved in the making of the atomic bomb(s) of WWII. And it did touch on them throughout the book, but not in any deep or meaningful way that let me feel as if I knew them. It felt more like what it was; the author had gone to interview many women and they shared snippets, little moments of events which made it into the book. The making of a biscuit pa...more
Wonderful, interesting story. Fantastic collection of facts I didn't know about the building of the enormous Tennessee's Atomic City at Oak Ridge which was dedicated to the actual processes of creating and assisting the scientists of the Manhattan Project. ALL IN SECRET. Creating a secret city of 75,000 people is hard to comprehend as well as the fact that most of those in residence had no idea what it was they were working on. Boggles the mind.
I only gave this three stars because it's rather dr...more
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2013-reads
I don't know - I found myself not caring terribly much about this story and these people. That's exactly the opposite of what the author intended - she wanted the reader to be deeply invested in the life stories of an arbitrarily chosen/representative group of young women who worked at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, as perhaps a friendly handholding way for the reader to enter the story of the Bomb. (The "Cast of Characters" list at the start of the book lends to this idea of a grand sa...more
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
I anxiously anticipated reading The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan, and I am delighted to report that I was not disappointed. In The Girls of Atomic City, Kiernan introduces us to a wide range of woman who worked at Clinton Engineering Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This self-contained community was part of the Manhattan Project and home to a top secret uranium project. Most of these woman had no idea what project they were worki...more
Nancy Oakes
If you are at all interested in women's history, the history of America's nuclear program, or Cold War history, The Girls of Atomic City should be one of those books that gets added on to and then moved up to the top of your tbr pile. It is one of the most thought-provoking nonfiction books I've read in a long time. As always, you can read the shortened version here, or click through for the longer one.

In a nutshell, Girls of Atomic City explores some of the women who helped keep things going d...more
Martin Wood
You don't need me to tell you what this book was about. What you do need is to stop what you're doing or reading right now and pick up this book. This is a fantastic look back at the dawning of the nuclear age in America and the world during a time of global upheaval. The focus is on the civilians who sacrificed everything they knew to collectively work toward something that they were not allowed to know anything about, and how they (along with so many troops who are nothing less than heroes who...more
I made myself finish this wretched book. There are some things through the end that were interesting, but the author took a fascinating story and made it impossible for me to get into. The editor did this author a grave disservice by giving this version of the book the green light. Horribly difficult to follow and I didn't care about anybody because I couldn't keep track of who was who. Wretched. Wretched book. Skip it. I don't know how this book has become bad big as it has. I can't say enough...more
Girls of Atomic City

This is the perfectly executed history book: It tells a story from a side (women) that most people haven’t heard. It includes female scientists, African American women, native Tennessee women, transplants from the city, transplants from the prairie, and interactions between the women and Japanese women years immediately –and years- after the bomb fell. It covers racial tensions, social caste tensions, segregation and discrimination in the workplace, and the struggles of femal...more
This was a very interesting book although some would find the massive amount of detail a little dragging. The wind up to the Oak Ridge portion of the Manhattan project was unbelievably rapid. Huge factories built with neck breaking speed, with very little outside knowledge, in some cases without the intended final scientific process even fully defined. On the human front it was a massive recruitment process which detailed virtually nothing to potential workers except a good wage and the possibil...more
Wow... Once I really sat down and read the last 70 percent of this book, (on Kindle), in almost one sitting (on a couple of sittings), I couldn't put it down!

The 'details' from the Decision Makers (Scientists, Engineers), in this book no longer scared me. (or feed into "I won't understand").

This story was FASCINATING. (I knew nothing about this topic prior to reading this book).

The most ambitious War Project in Military History rested squarely on the shoulders on tens and thousands of ordinary p...more

“The Project liked high school girls, especially those from rural backgrounds. Recruiters sought them out relentlessly, feeling young women were easy to instruct. They did what they were told. They weren’t overly curious. If you tell a young woman of 18 from a small-town background to do something, she’ll do it, no questions asked.”—page 69

Time and place, early-1940s, eastern Tennessee, and reason for being, helping to develop the world’s first atomic bomb, all...more
A series of wonderfully told vignettes about life at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project. These women (and the men around them) really did end the war. The compartmentalization of knowledge was fascinating and the degree of devotion of these workers to not talking about work was unbelieveable. If the war had gone on much longer, I'm not sure they would have survived with their psyches intact.
I recommend Girls of Atomic City if you are a history buff, and love to hear of women in strength. It is a great read for book club with great discussion. You won't believe what comes up after reading this. This is one of our best discussions we have had in a great while.

My grandmother was one of those ladies at the factory, and in the navy yards in Boston. Like many she helped and contributed for the war effort. She made the planes in the navy yards in Boston. That is my story, but posted below...more
victor harris
Another of those excellent stories about World War II that doesn't get mainstream coverage. If you have some background in physics it will help in the reading, but a good story even if you don't.
L.A. Starks
While the writing style is a bit too breezy and casual, the research in this book is impeccable. The author gives a very good sense of the secrecy of the Oak Ridge enrichment facility, and of the entire atomic bomb project.
Each woman profiled is pleased to get work, coming out of the Depression. All are puzzled by the compartmentalization and secrecy. Though the profiles don't make a whole, it is an interesting way to read about Oak Ridge.
It is also nostalgic to sense the purpose of these wo...more
If I were to say Los Alamos or The Manhattan Project, most people would know what I was talking about. If I were to say Hanford, WA or Oakridge, TN fewer people would know what I was referring to. This website about Los Alamos, New Mexico mentions both places briefly. What it doesn’t tell you is neither town existed before the 1940′s. This book is the history of the town of Oak Ridge, TN. More specifically it is the story of the many young women who came to Oak Ridge to help win the war.

Ms. Kier...more
Paul Pessolano
“The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan, published by Touchstone Books.

Category – History/World War II

Everyone knows the icon “Rosie the Riveter” from this era, few know of the woman pilots who ferried planes for the war effort to allow more men pilots to fight the war, but how about those who worked on the atomic bomb. The United States Government opened good employment opportunities for people, especially women, at an undisclosed place, under tremendous secrecy, doing things that they kne...more
In 1943 the U.S. Government began a massive recruiting program to gather workers for top-secret facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There, uranium would be enriched to fuel the atom bomb being developed in New Mexico.

Project organizers determined that the ideal workers would be young high school girls, especially those from rural backgrounds, because “they did what they were told” and “they weren’t overly curious.” More educated or urban workers might be more prone to ask questions. And this pr...more
"Mind-blowing" seems to be a word getting a lot of use these days. I'm going to apply it to this completely surprising and fascinating book. I have no idea how this made it onto my list but I'm so glad it did. The book is the story of Oak Ridge, TN which did not exist in 1942 except for some farms and lots of land. By 1945 it had 75,000 residents, shops, churches, schools, dances, sports and the second largest bus system in the world. It was virtually unknown to the rest of the country. Between...more
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Denise Kiernan is the author of the New York Times Bestselling nonfiction title, "The Girls of Atomic City" (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster).

As a journalist, her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, Saveur, Discover, Ms., Sports Illustrated for Kids, Conde Nast Sports for Women and others. In addition to her books for...more
More about Denise Kiernan...
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“The "hillbilly" girls were generating more enriched Tubealloy per run than the PhDs had...The District Engineer understood perfectly. Those girls...had been trained like soldiers. Do what you're told. Don't ask why.” 1 likes
“On occasion, people who tried to write family members living at Site X by addressing the letters to “Oak Ridge” got those letters returned to sender with a note reading simply: “There is no such place as Oak Ridge, Tennessee.” 1 likes
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