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.