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...moreIf 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 during the war in a project located in a facility in what is now Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one that was geared toward putting an end to the war,as well as a place that tens of thousands of people called home. The women were trained to do only very specific tasks without understanding the overall project that their labors helped to create. They were not allowed to talk about their work, nor were they allowed to question anything, and they never knew who might report them if they did. The project was so secret that wives couldn't talk to husbands about their work, dating couples couldn't discuss their jobs, workers couldn't talk to families or friends on the outside, and violations of that rule often ended up with people simply disappearing, never to be heard from or seen ever again. The women, along with the majority of men working at Oak Ridge, had no clue at all that everything they did helped to contribute to the production of the atomic bomb that was used first in Hiroshima, and then Nagasaki. It was only when the bombs were dropped that the news was released, and people finally realized what it was they'd been working on, with very mixed reactions. In The Girls of Atomic City, the author examines the personal and professional lives of some of the women who called Oak Ridge home for the duration. It can get a little boggy sometimes with too much detail, and in some cases doesn't seem to go far enough in terms of questions that imho weren't asked, but despite these flaws, an overall look at the big picture makes this a history well worth reading. It also made me wonder whether or not something like an Oak Ridge might be possible today in terms of the sheer amount of secrecy involved. The book is definitely thought provoking and also provides a look inside the America of the WWII years. Highly recommended. (less)
My thanks to the people at LT early reviewers and to Henry Holt for my copy of this book. Simply put, it's amazing.
If you've ever just sat for a mome...moreMy thanks to the people at LT early reviewers and to Henry Holt for my copy of this book. Simply put, it's amazing.
If you've ever just sat for a moment and wondered about why so much of the world hates us here in the US, this book will provide a few of the answers. It examines, among other things, how the brothers Dulles, Allen and John Foster (Foster), through their incredible political power and family/corporate/foreign connections, helped to shape our current world, paving the way for American policy abroad to best serve corporate interests. The overt and covert means they employed to protect American interests throughout the globe set into motion events that continue to have repercussions today and will probably continue on well into the future. As the author notes, "Fundamental assumptions that guide American foreign policy have not changed substantially" since the Dulles brothers were in power, and this book is a great place to learn exactly what encompassed American foreign policy during their time and why their "approach to the world" has had deleterious effects on our nation. He also examines the concept of "exceptionalism" as a guiding force in setting policy, a belief that is still held by many today, that somehow the US is more moral than other countries, so that as a nation, we have the right to "behave in ways that others should not." That belief encompasses another idea in which we should be able to take out governments "we" don't like or do other deeds to help shape the course of history.
Aside from examining exactly what the Dulles brothers did over the course of their respective and then combined careers, and how their policy led to such immense episodes of global upheaval, the author also delves into who these two brothers were, how they got their start in the combined areas of finance, multinationals, politics, foreign relations, and the murky world of US intelligence. Trust me, these are not people you will like; there is nothing redeeming about either of them -- they had zero empathy, no compassion and could care less about how many people were killed in the course of their operations.
The book is extremely well written, and is not at all difficult to read; you need no expertise in history, politics or foreign relations to understand it. It's important if you are at all curious about why our government does what it does or how we seem to involve ourselves in sticky quagmires all over the world and what the government is not telling us. It's also a must read, because as the author notes, even though the brothers' actions were products of their time, their story is also the "story of America," and tells us a lot about ourselves as Americans.
Frankly, I have to say that not much really catches me by surprise any more: the political front, the spins on global events, the media as the monkey to the big power players, the disregard for the common people and the Constitution, and this book just goes to show that while the players have changed, really, the same sort of stuff was going on during the heyday of the brothers' power and influence. But back then It was just kept more tightly under wraps and better concealed from the public. The Brothers is simply a stellar work -- and I recommend it highly. (less)
Empty Mansions is one of those books where you don't get sucked in right away, but once you're there, there's no way you can leave. I have a long revi...moreEmpty Mansions is one of those books where you don't get sucked in right away, but once you're there, there's no way you can leave. I have a long review you can read by clicking here, or just stay for the shorter version. Either way, right up front I'll say that you probably haven't read another book like this one.
Empty Mansions is a book that proves the old axiom that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, and, I would add, just as captivating. The centerpiece of this book is Huguette Clark, a privileged, incredibly wealthy woman who chose to live her life happily by staying hidden. Huguette's story may seem to some to be the stuff of madness, but the the authors disagree, calling her a "modern-day 'Boo' Radley," someone who shut herself away in order to remain "safe from a world that can hurt." Huguette died in 2011, at the age of 104, two weeks shy of 105, but her death isn't the end of this story. Empty Mansions takes you from the wide Montana prairies to the smaller world of the privileged elite; from a beautiful mansion topped with a golden tower on Millionaire's Row in New York City to a hospital room next to a janitor's closet in this strange but well-told and thoroughly-researched story.
The book takes the reader through the life of W.A. Clark, former senator from Montana and self-made multimillionaire known as the "copper king," and his family -- his wife Anna La Chapelle, daughters Huguette and older sister Andrée. Clark had other older children from a previous marriage, but lived with his second family on New York City's Millionaire's Row in a six-story mansion at Fifth Avenue and Seventy-seventh street. The sisters grew up in opulence and lived privileged lives, all before tragedy struck with Andrée's death at the age of 16. After having lost her sister and best friend, Huguette was sent alone to a school for the "daughters of elite," where her dance teacher was Isadora Duncan. In 1925 her father died, but due to the terms of his will, Anna and Huguette moved to an apartment at 907 Fifth Avenue. Huguette married in 1928, but it didn't last, and she was divorced by 1930. As time went on, Huguette began to stop seeing visitors, becoming reclusive, and eventually stopped leaving her apartment. Anna died in 1963, and Huguette "throws herself" into her art -- which consisted of painting and meticulously furnishing dollhouses, or more accurately, storyhouses where she could move her dolls (a massive collection) through the rooms, having them do different things, and studying cartoons frame by frame. She spent tons of money on these projects, and was also very generous with her money among friends and supporting worthy causes (along with paying for upkeep of the "empty mansions" she'd inherited) from her "fairy-tale checkbook," but above all valued her privacy, trusting in her attorney and her accountant to handle all business transactions. But Huguette had also been getting treatment for skin cancer, and when her doctor died in 1990, she didn't look for another one, and all the while she was getting worse. A friend persuaded her to go the hospital for treatment, and she ended up at Doctors Hospital, a "treatment center for the wealthy," in New York City.
At the age of 85, within two months of Huguette's surgeries, she becomes an "indefinite patient," at Doctors Hospital, choosing to remain there for the rest of her life, never telling family where she was, ordering everyone to respect her privacy at all costs. According to the authors, within a month, one of her doctors alerts the hospital's powers-that-be Huguette is the daughter of a multimillionaire, and that he'd be willing to help develop an "appropriate cultivation approach." Behind her back, they made fun of her, but the hospital officials hold meetings to figure out how to get her to give up some of her money. The president of the hospital, again according to the authors, boldly says that
"Madame, as you know, is the biggest bucks contributing potential we have ever had."
The doctors go all out trying to get her to cough up in a number of measures that can only be described as coercive.
It wasn't just the officials or her doctors who got part of her money, either, one of them outright blackmailing her into loaning him an extra $500,000 on top of the million she'd already given him. Her private nurse/companion is Hadassah Peri who also came to benefit from Huguette's generosity, as Huguette gave her and her family several "gifts" of cash and property, coming to over $30 million dollars. By the time of her death, Huguette was cash poor, and had been selling off extremely valuable possessions to pay for the little "gifts" she gave out as well as the taxes attached to the gifts.
I will say that the first parts of the book that went back to the days when W.A. Clark was making his fortune and building up a tarnished reputation as a Montana senator were pretty dull, and that I almost put the book down. Once the early history was finished, however, the story picked up with a vengeance. There were parts that shocked, parts that made me downright angry, and parts where I couldn't tell whether Huguette was mentally disturbed, easily taken advantage of or coerced, or whether she was just exercising her right to spend her money the way she chose to. I just wanted to know her story and how she got to the point where she chose to stay in a hospital for twenty years, but it turned into much more than that. There are some really good questions raised in this book, but in the end, I discovered that it actually raises more than it answers. That's not a bad thing, and there are probably things that will never be known, even when this upcoming trial gets underway.
Definitely recommended, and while not all reviews have been positive, I don't really pay attention to them when I find something I've really liked reading. If you are looking for something beyond the ordinary, you'll definitely find it here.
At the time the author wrote this book, he'd been free from his heroin addiction for t...morelike a 3.8 rounded up.
my copy from the publisher -- thank you!
At the time the author wrote this book, he'd been free from his heroin addiction for ten years. White Out is his story of his addiction and then how he came to kick it. I won't go into great detail about what he wrote per se, because this is a book that actually has to be experienced -- it reads like he sat down at his computer and just let everything pour out of himself.
While a grad student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, starting at age 21, Michael Clune lived the life of a heroin addict for years, until he got to a point where on a visit to his parents in Chicago he was picked up by the police, thrown in jail and then given a choice of prison or recovery. In between those two times, his experiences and his feelings often flow here in stream-of-consciousness-like prose, where he also reflects on memory, addiction, and time. The book gets into his introduction to heroin, his addiction (and the denial that he's an addict) and his ongoing relationships with his demons. In fact, other than the central metaphor of "white," one of the themes that runs consistently through this narrative, he spends a lot of this book talking about "the first time." As he tells his readers, the first time is "dope's magic secret."
"Then I see a white-topped vial. Wow. I stare at it. It's the first time I've ever seen it. I know I've seen it ten thousand times before. I know it only leads to bad things. I know I've had it and touched it and used it and shaken the last particles of white from the thin deep bottom one thousand times. But there it is. And it's the first time I've ever seen it."
“It might seem like I’m kind of obsessed by the first time I did dope. No shit. If you’re writing a book about this, and you don’t use at least this much space writing about the first time, you’re not being honest.”
Well, honest is what you get in this narrative, written in a style that can often come across as repetitive, but one which tries to convey what it was like for the author during the addiction years. His writing style seems to mirror his inner unraveling, but it makes sense and coheres in a bizarre, offbeat sort of way. Through it all he reminds his readers that the heroin is still "right over there" which, if you think about it, is pretty frightening.
I liked this book. I'll probably never really gut-level understand what Mr. Clune went through, and for someone like myself who picks up a personal account like this, I don't think it's fair to say that his experience can be entirely comprehended within the scope of a couple of hundred pages. That's not a negative -- this is his unique story, a way for him to try to relate his unique experience which was pretty frightening, even considering the positive outcome. But I think this book is probably best suited for readers who are close to someone who is an addict and who may want to try to glean some insight from Mr. Clune's experiences. It's definitely an account I'd turn to in that situation.