Book Review – The Atomic City Girls

Book Review – The Atomic City Girls

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During WW2, in the farm land of Tennessee, the land was cleared for The Manhattan Project. At the time no one knew what it was for. There was high security and the place was surrounded by fences. Several plants were built on the land and a town was built to house all the employees.

In The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard, June moves to Oak Ridge to work in one of the plants. She lives in a small dorm with two other girls and works during the day turning dials on a machine she has no idea what the purpose is for. While working a scientist catches her eye. After another encounter she become involved in a relationship with the physicist Sam.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 1940s

I always see you there. All you pretty girls who have no idea your building a very nasty bomb.

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Guilt Regarding the Impact of the Project

One of the things that plays a role in this book is guilt. Sam is well aware of what they are building, and the knowledge of it haunts him. He spend starts to drink too much, and longs to share his misery. Jane is a willing and smart student at first and listens to everything he tells her and learns, but eventually his moods hurt their relationship.

You enjoyed the physics. That doesn’t make you a monster. Go easy on yourself and all of us. You didn’t enjoy the idea of killing. None of us do.

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Jane feels guilt too, but hers is due to a childhood friend who goes off to war. She lied about her feelings and now it’s something she can never correct.

What makes you think while reading this book is that the scientists knew what they were building, but they continued. They understood the impact if it succeeded, but either worked out of fear, that the other side was also building a bomb, and they had no choice if they wanted to survive. Or they simply tried not to think about it, they were just doing their job and quitting or leaving wasn’t going to prevent what was inevitable.

Alpha Racetrack inside Y-12 Electromagnetic Plant – From U.S Department of Energy

There was a certain momentum to something this big. With these many minds, this much effort, a bomb was inevitable.

The Atomic City Girls By Janet Beard

In one part if the book it’s said that some scientists tried to convince the president not to drop the bomb, and use it as a warning instead. I find this thought sligtly comforting, to know that some of the scientists, at least tried to prevent the use of the bomb. This infograph is from the Oak Ridge website and displays the history of the graphite reactor that Jane worked on in the book.

Segregation in Oak Ridge

Another important part if the book is segregation. The town employed many African-American workers. These residents had their own neighbourhood, schools, and entertainment buildings. And we’re not aloud to attend these with the other employees. Due to racism at the time the quality was significantly less than the other residents. There are two main characters in this storyline, Sam a husband and father who rather stay out of any political discussions, and his adoptive son who wants to fight for their rights and improve life for his people. Dispite their conflicting views they remain close.

Overall Thoughts

The part if the book I found most impactful was is when everyone is celebrating after the first bomb is dropped. It’s disturbing to read now, that no once seemed concerned or upset when they found out what they were building all that time. You actually feel what Sam has been feeling the whole book.

Oak Ridge’s identity transformed overnight from the secret city to the atomic city.

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

This was an okay book. I liked June’s character and I did learn a bit about the city. The book has historical pictures from the era throughout that were really interesting to see. It didn’t have any twists or surprises but still worth the read.

3 out of 5 stars


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