At the same time, I realized that this might be the only book a potential reader ever cracks open about the Manhattan Project, so the project as a whole had to be explained as well. Otherwise the stakes are not clear. I wanted those worlds to start to overlap and collide around the time of the Trinity test. There are countless books and movies devoted to World War II history.
Why do you think readers are perennially interested in this period? What new perspective on the war does The Girls of Atomic City provide on the era? I think World War II on many levels made some sort of sense to people. We were attacked at Pearl Harbor. European countries—our allies—were being overrun. Unfathomable atrocities were being committed. That war touched so many lives.
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Everyone felt affected, whether or not they were fighting. American culture was submerged in that event during those years. Those people who lived through the war and the children of those who lived through the war are still alive, and I think the desire to understand as much of that period of time as possible remains. What I hope The Girls of Atomic City adds to literature about that era is a look at one of the most significant—if not the most significant—scientific developments of the 20th century from the perspective of those who were not a part of the decision, those who were not privy to all the facts, people who were just trying to do the best for themselves, their families and their country.
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They add an important layer to historical events that should be examined and shared. The development and use of atomic bombs during World War II is still a controversial subject. Did you have trouble maintaining an objective point-of-view as you were writing this book? Did your perspective on the ethics of the bomb shift over the course of your research?
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I doubt the debate about whether or not the bomb should have been dropped will ever end. I encountered people who felt very strongly that it should have been and people who felt very strongly that it should not have been. What I tried to focus on was how they felt then. But that soon began to change. I tried as hard as I could to understand how they felt at that time about the events and not bring my own understanding to their memories. The Girls of Atomic City presents complex scientific concepts, such as nuclear fission, in a clear and lucid way.
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What challenges did you face in learning and writing about the science behind the atomic bomb? There are two steps: first, I have to understand the topic as deeply as possible, much more in depth than I would ever share with the general public. Then I have to winnow it down to the most understandable language. Enough to communicate the most important concepts without getting too confusing.
Earlier drafts of the book had a lot more science that I gradually simplified throughout my revisions. But it was definitely one of the more challenging aspects of the book. One important theme of The Girls of Atomic City is the inequality that women and minorities dealt with on a daily basis. Were the women you interviewed bitter about their treatment in the past, or did they remember the wartime years fondly?
If people complained about anything it was the food. Jane was already annoyed at not being allowed to matriculate as an engineering student, so it was little surprise to her that men beneath her were getting paid more. People like Kattie and other African Americans I interviewed were certainly not happy with their treatment. However, most of them were already living in the south before coming to Oak Ridge and were likely facing similar discriminatory practices back home.
Not being able to have your children with you or be with your spouse was probably the biggest issue, the one that caused the most bitterness. But many still have some fond memories from their days in Oak Ridge. Again, I have found that this was not a generation of complainers. From ordinary workers to brilliant scientists, there are plenty of women from this period who have been forgotten in popular history. Why do you think these stories are important to tell? Their stories also serve as an inspiration to young women making decisions about careers and choices available to them today.
A woman helped discover fission? So what? Of course she did. You previously published books about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. What was it like to write about a much more recent period of history in The Girls of Atomic City There are certainly more documents I can get my hands on writing a book about World War II. What does it capture about that time and place? Certainly Kattie was not in the same boat as the others.
Those living in the trailers and huts—white and black—were not in the same domestic boat as those in the prefab houses or even dorms. But they were all subject to rations, they were all riding the same buses, they were all trudging through the mud, and they were all waiting for the war to end. The war was the biggest boat of all.
Imagine you were a worker at the Clinton Engineer Works. What kinds of work do you think you would have enjoyed the most and least? I think I would have liked to be one of the dorm marms. I imagine it would have been fantastic to watch all the different comings and goings of so many young women on their own for the first time. Any job featuring rote repetition, where I would have had to suppress my curiosity—the majority of factory work—would not have been a good fit for me. What is the significance of this story today, in your view? What can we learn from the workers, scientists, and politicians behind the atomic bomb?
Many people know very little about the development of the atomic bomb, despite the fact that nuclear weapons and nuclear energy play a significant role in our lives today. I think it is interesting to examine the willingness of most Americans, from factory workers to members of the media, to get on board with whatever the American government asked of them.
There was a trust in our leaders that is hard to find today. I am not saying one era is better than the other, but that the difference in and of itself is interesting to explore. Whether or not you agree with the outcome, the tremendous amount that the Manhattan Project accomplished in such a short amount of time—just under three years—is astonishing. It makes you wonder what other kinds of things could be accomplished with that kind of determination, effort, and financial and political support. What if the kind of money, manpower and resources that went into the Manhattan Project went to the fight against hunger?
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Atomic City by Sally Breen
Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in US history.
Atomic City, USA: how once-secret Los Alamos became a millionaire's enclave
In Los Alamos, average incomes are twice as high as those in Rio Arriba. A Census Bureau report said this was one of the largest wealth gaps between two neighbouring counties in America. For years it has also struggled with its reputation as the heroin overdose capital of America. Hunner describes the disparity between Los Alamos and neighbouring towns as almost inevitable. The environmental impact of living next door to a nuclear research lab is another sore issue. The carcinogenic plume of hexavalent chromium , meanwhile, which was discovered 10 years ago, is migrating towards nearby Native lands and the regional aquifer.
Los Alamos sits on a hill at more than 7,ft 2, metres above sea level. The single, steep road to the town winds through picturesque northern New Mexico: arid landscape punctuated with desert plants and native American pueblos, with the Jemez mountains in the background. On a sunny September afternoon, the town is calm and peaceful.
A perfectly landscaped and manicured pond is surrounded by a park of bright green grass. A young couple pushes a baby in a stroller. Inside a supermarket in Los Alamos, there are fine wines on sale along with cigars, stored in a purpose-built humidor. A grand new municipal building stands on the side of the main street — much larger than one might expect in such a small town.
But while Los Alamos is clean and orderly with hints of privilege, its affluence is relatively understated. McClenahan has lived here for more than 15 years. Her husband does environmental work at the lab.
Most families have at least one person working at the laboratory. There are fabulous schools. And yet references to war and nuclear weapons are everywhere. Research at the lab today includes fields like climate change, supercomputing and astrophysics. But still nuclear weapons is the dominant subject.
Pete Sheehey, a Los Alamos county councillor, first moved to the town 30 years ago from California while finishing a PhD in physics. And we are working to increase tourism as well. Even when it kicks and stalks and climbs up the side of the house at night. Shamanism is a minority faith in South Korea, and this is a fascinating exploration of the women who continue to engage in it even after being pushed out of society and stigmatised by authorities.
How do you keep traditions alive in a culture that wants to reject them along with everything they stand for? The kut center is at the foot of the mountains and a short drive from the nearest town. This is because kut are loud, rambunctious, disruptive affairs. Many local village shamans in Seoul have relocated in the past few decades, their temples and shrines destroyed by city development and reform policy. Thanks for subscribing! You'll be receiving an email shortly to confirm your request.
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