The title of this posting  incorporates  two books, a work of non fiction and a novel. Both detail the secrets of the U.S. government’s  World War II  Oak Ridge Tennessee Laboratory from its creation in 1943 to the end of the Second World War in 1945.


Denise Kiernan’s book The Girls of Atomic City, The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II , tells the incredible story of the overnight construction of  a  secret huge industrial complex ( Site X)  in Oak Ridge Tennessee, the sole purpose of which was to convert uranium into enriched nuclear fuel for the construction of the first atomic bomb under the stealth Manhattan Project. Within a year, Oak Ridge Tennessee grew to a community of 75,000 inhabitants and into one of the largest industrial complexes in the world!

Kiernan details  how thousands of young women were recruited to Oak Ridge from throughout the country  with the promise of good paying  jobs that would ,” Help Win The War.”   These young recruits , mostly in their early 20s ,  boarded buses and trains without knowing exactly where they were going and  not having any idea of the position they were about to assume.  Adding to this remarkable story is that for the duration  of their stay, none of the workers at Oak Ridge  ever knew the true nature of the work.  Only after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was the nature of their work revealed to them.

The Girls of Atomic City  tells the Oak Ridge story from the standpoint of the sociological  interaction of the thousands of young men and women living together in camp-like accommodations, finding a way to establish a social life while at the same time working on a top-secret project that even talking about to friends was forbidden.  Additionally, the book translates into layman’s language  the scientific process of creating the fuel ( enriched uranium)  for  ( The  Gadget )  which was to become the atomic bomb.


What Kiernan does not develop  is the story of the enormous health hazards that these young women  and everyone at Oak Ridge were exposed to every day.  Marianne Wiggins’  novel  Evidence of Things Unseen,  accomplishes that in a beautiful love story that winds its way from Tennessee to the  eastern shore of North Carolina and the  back to the Oak Ridge Laboratory  to uncover the horror of the impact of radiation sickness upon unknowing workers.  In an odd twist, Wiggins’ novel completes Kiernan’s  work of non-fiction.

Denise Kiernan is also the author of Signing Their Lives Away and Signing Their Rights Away, the fame and mis-fortune of the men who signed The Declaration  of Independence.   Her work has appeared in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. 

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