Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

I found out about this book from a Wendy over at Literary Feline, and it immediately piqued my interest because I know nothing about the contributions that women made to America developing the atomic bomb.

And now I know: they did a lot.

From the research to the actual building, women were an instrumental part of the process. It's a shame that they were ignored, especially when scientific recognition was being given out.

The book used two concurrent narratives - one following the lives of the women building the bomb, and one following the development of the bomb, code named "Tubealloy" in the whole book.

I found this book fascinating. It's as far away as from a normal history book as you can get, especially with its focus on the lives of individual women.

However, the book suffers from having too many subjects. I can't remember how many women the book profiled, but I found it hard to differentiate between them. Considering how their paths diverged, that was not a good sign. I guess that it's because none of the women ever felt fully alive to me.

At the end of the book, I was very conscious of the fact that there is no 'clean' way to win war.

In school, we learnt that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan because they had no choice. When I went to Nagasaki, I learnt that this choice involved years of prolonged suffering for the Japanese.

Later on, I learnt that the Japanese was already considering surrender, so this wasn't really a "no-choice" sort of thing. It was just valuing American lives of Japanese lives, and forgetting that all human lives are lives.

In this book, there was an added message that the whole secrecy of this thing meant that countless people were exposed to risks they weren't fully told about. There's no follow up on the medical health of the women in the book, but considering that one man had radioactive material injected into him without his consent or knowledge, I find it hard to believe that everyone made it out unscathed.

All in all, this is a fascinating read. I may not have been able to differentiate between each individual lady, but I managed to get a sense of how this community functioned as a whole, and the toll it took on them. Definitely recommended to people who like history.


  1. Part of me wonders if the book would have been stronger had the author made it longer--so she could go more into the women's lives, making them stand out as individuals more than they did. I had trouble keeping track of who was who at first too (although I eventually was able to). I think this was a good introduction to the topics covered and worth reading. Great review!

    1. Thanks! And I agree, the book might have been stronger if it were longer, or if she focused on less people. But then again, less people = not as complete a picture.


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