The Girls of Atomic City

  • by Denise Kiernan
  • Narrated by Cassandra Campbell
  • 12 hrs and 51 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war - when Oak Ridge's secret was revealed.
Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it - women who are now in their eighties and nineties - The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country's history.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Important story of this secret city

there are many non-fiction books on Americans experience during WWII but none have affected me as much as The Girls of Atomic City. The author, Denise Kiernan, managed to take the readers though the exciting story of the highly classified race for the A-bomb while intertwining the lives of the women and men who worked at Oak Ridge. These men and women sacrificed much to help the war effort and im glad Kiernan has preserved their accounts for us to read.

This story stirred two conflicting emotions in me the reader. First, pride in what others before us have done and humility in the sacrifice they made in the face of fear and uncertainty.

Parents, add this book to your teenagers' reading list to supplement their American history studies.

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- CBlox

Secret City, Secret People

In 1642, Dutch Golden Age Master Rembrandt van Rijn completed "The Night Watch". The three most important subjects of the painting are in sunlight, and the other 31 people - the military company of the two men in sunlight - are shaded, using a technique called chiaroscuro. Someone looking at "The Night Watch" quickly would notice the featured soldiers and the girl watching them, but miss the other people in the background, who are doing very interesting things - and make up most of the picture.

When I listened to Denise Kiernan's "The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II" (2013) I realized that I knew about the stars of the atomic program - Robert J. Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, General Leslie Groves - but the whole story of making the atomic bomb has been in chiaroscuro.

Kiernan focuses on the women involved in the project, from Caddy (spelling may be wrong, since I was listening), a black woman janitor who worked overtime to help buy a B-25 bomber; unskilled high school graduates recruited from the surrounding area; well educated female statisticians and scientists who, before the war, had been discouraged from their 'unsuitable choices' for degrees; to Lise Meitner, a German physicist of Jewish descent who fled Nazi Europe whose research on fission was crucial to engineering the bomb itself. Clinton Engineering Works (CEW) was the operation of huge plants that extracted enriched uranium. One of the largest plants was built by woman-owned HK Ferguson, Inc, in just 66 days.

These accomplishments are astounding - especially for blacks and women who were paid less for doing the same jobs as white men, because, after all . . . Well, they could. That was as stupid then as it is now. I was pretty saddened to hear that blacks were segregated both from whites, and men from women - even if they were married. One black man, injured in an accident, had medical experiments conducted on him without his consent. A very well qualified black scientist wasn't sent to Oak Ridge because he would have had to live in a Hutment (shack).

"The Girls of Atomic City" made me realize that, like a quick glance at "The Night Watch," I'd missed most of the picture - and I didn't even know it. It's a great listen.

About the audio - well, I wasn't wild about Cassandra Campbell's narration. Her character narration was good, and I particularly liked the Italian accent she needed to use for some people. However, on the explanatory prose - well, there's no reason to elongate one syllable words interminably.

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-12-2013
  • Publisher: Audible Studios