Finished reading on November 7th, 2013
“The Girls of Atomic City” is a book about the lives of women in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the Second World War. These women helped to enrich Uranium, or take care of the sick and injured or took care of some paperwork or worked in a chemistry lab, without really knowing what it was they were working on. They only knew what it was they were supposed to be doing.
That secrecy part is quite understandable, as the Gadget was supposed to end the war and bring their sons and brothers back home. And that kind of large-scale secret keeping seems to have been one of the main characteristics of the 20th century. Not just the Manhattan project in the United States, but also the first artificial satellite that was built in the Soviet Union some 20 years later… and probably a lot of others.
That seems the most curious thing that the secrets were kept.
But other than that the book is really interesting as the atmosphere created by the secrecy and the descriptions of scenery are quite extraordinary – the mud and women first arriving and wearing their best shoes for first day at work having to trot through it and possibly lose the in the mud…The “hutments” and other living quarters where people had to live… but at least the money was good.
One of the parts I liked best was when one of the women asked a random construction worker to make her a pan. Since there was scrap metal around that they wouldn’t use… And surprise – she did get her pans – three of them! And was able to make biscuits in secret although it was forbidden to cook in the “hutments”.
I think that this book is a rally good one to read to get a feeling for the era and atmosphere of the Manhattan project. There’s not much science (almost not at all), so it’s accessible and it’s not too gory either.