Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” as Want to Read:
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  21,489 ratings  ·  2,979 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 height of World War II it was using more electr
Hardcover, 373 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Girls of Atomic City, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Marjie As far as I know, it is entirely an account of real people and events. I live near Oak Ridge and have talked to people who recall the mysterious…moreAs far as I know, it is entirely an account of real people and events. I live near Oak Ridge and have talked to people who recall the mysterious goings on there during WWII and knew people whose property was confiscated for the project.(less)
Ellen Clark I believe the answer to the first question is YES, we do care about what happened to the women following the end of World War II. What became of them,…moreI believe the answer to the first question is YES, we do care about what happened to the women following the end of World War II. What became of them, how they lived their lives. Regarding the second question, I suggest that, unfortunately, this was a product of the times in which they were living. Would the same thing happen today. I certainly hope not! However, we cannot go back and re-write the history. I think it is important for people to know exactly what transpired, so we do not repeat the same behaviors!(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  21,489 ratings  ·  2,979 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Katherine Hunter
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
The Library Lady
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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. But this book 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 atomi
Katie B
Incredible story of how tens of thousands of ordinary American citizens worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and helped build the atomic bomb. Each person knew how to do their job but did not know the purpose of their individual tasks other than it was part of the war effort. When the bombings occurred in Japan, they were just as surprised as the rest of the world. It was probably the best kept secret in American history.

The book features the stories of some of the women who worked in various capacit
Mar 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Diane S ☔
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Started with a picture that sparked Kiernan's curiosity and resulted in this wonderful book. Oak Ridge, TN managed to build a complex that employed 75,000 people, all sworn to secrecy. Loved the narrative style of this book and that the book centered on the young woman who worked there as well as staff and others employed in this huge complex. The bravery of these young women, who left their homes, not able to tell their families nor friends where they were going or what they were doing, especia ...more
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Elyse Walters
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Update: Kindle $1.99 special today. It’s a remarkable fascinating story!!!!

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
Dec 21, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Blaine DeSantis
I've been wanting to try this author for a while, because I've also noticed her more recent book on the Biltmore Estate, The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation's Largest Home, which I will also plan to read. I don't read a lot of history but she made it go down easy by alternating between chapters on the backstory of the technology leading to the actual applications of atomic energy, and chapters about the characters, largely women, moving to Oak Ridge ...more
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.
Clif Hostetler
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Larry Bassett
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Mar 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Joseph Spuckler
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Book Concierge
Audiobook narrated by Cassandra Campbell

From the book jacket: At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians – many of them young women from small towns across the South – were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the tru nature of the t
Jul 03, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it

Content: 5 stars

Execution: 3 stars

This is a great story of some of the women who helped with the making of the first atomic bomb. It was fascinating how they were recruited and then carried out their jobs. I loved reading about the history here. I just wasn't crazy about the writing. Some of it was kind of dry and weighty. Before it even really got started, I thought I wasn't going to be able to do it.....but I'm glad I did. The story was worth the read.
Nicole R
This was a hard book for me to rate. I absolutely loved the topic and appreciated that it was a a totally new subject to me that (supposedly) highlighted the role of women in creating the atomic bomb. But, I felt the title was a bit of false advertising and the story was not nearly as compelling as it could have easily been.

After Pearl Harbor, there was an otherworldly confluence of scientific breakthroughs related to atomic fission and collection of scientific geniuses the likes of which the wo
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Not recommended
I made it to page 111 in chapter 5 and I'm calling it quits.

The construction of this book is lousy. It jumps all over the place, there are too many characters to remember, none of them are memorable, the author relates WAY too much information about the specifics of making the bomb and only provides mundane snippets of the lives of the "girls" and I AM BORED TO TEARS!

Read with SBC book club November 2016 (or not, as the case may be)
Nancy Oakes
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
What I was expecting:


What I got:


Honestly. What a snoozefest.

The Girls of Atomic City is crippled by its lack of focus. Kiernan attempts to tell three stories and winds up telling no stories - or three poorly developed, dull stories:

1. The story of women working in Oak Ridge, TN.
2. The biographical sketches of a smattering of the women themselves.
3. The story of the production and release of the atomic bomb.

Of these three, the most interesting is #2. But the women are so interchangeable that I
May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book tells the very interesting story of the building of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan during WWII. Many of the workers in the Oak Ridge, TN plant were women. And even though the people who worked there didn't know what they were producing at the time because everything was Top Secret, they knew it was important work.
The information in this book is very interesting, was very long, very detailed, and highly technical, and it didn't make me want to keep coming ba
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
A nicely written, well-researched story on the creation of the atomic bomb. The book does a good job of bringing the science down to an attainable level for most readers. It's not an in-depth scientific look at the A-bomb by any means. Rather, the author tells the story through the women who moved to Oak Ridge, TN to work on the secretive Manhattan Project. In similar fashion to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the book alternates between scientific/historical accounts and delving into the ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book on the building and running of Oak Ridge, Tennessee which developed the fuel for the atomic bomb during World War II. Located in an isolated section of East Tennessee, 25 miles from Knoxville, it was built in a hurry and in as much secrecy as possible. Young men and women from all around the country and especially the surrounding area were recruited, given no indication of where they would be going or what they would be doing or for how long but promised good pay and a ch ...more
Lady ♥ Belleza
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
Apr 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War
  • Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World
  • Here is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History
  • Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II
  • Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II
  • Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue
  • The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight
  • We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese
  • Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence
  • Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation
  • Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941
  • The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There
  • 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany
  • The Women Who Wrote the War
  • The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II
  • Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance
  • The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History
  • Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
See similar books…
Denise Kiernan is an author, journalist and producer and has been working as a writer for more than 20 years. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, Ms. Magazine, Reader's Digest, Discover and many more publications. She has also worked in television, serving as head writer for ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" during its Emmy award-winning first ...more
“They fought to smile through the lines and the mud and the long hours, dancing under the stars and under the watchful eyes of their government, an Orwellian backdrop for a Rockwellian world.” 6 likes
“Case in point: On one of their first dates, he brought her a box of Ivory Flakes soap. Who needs flowers? Roses fade, but flaky soap available from the PX lasted months. Having Ivory Flakes was a rarity in itself, and also saved her valuable time—one less line to stand in, only to find that the grocer was out. Again. That was romance, as far as Colleen was concerned. Maybe this guy was a keeper after all.” 2 likes
More quotes…