Book Review, “Atomic City Girls”

As a child growing up in the ” nuclear age”, I have long been fascinated by the atom bomb and it’s development. At school I was aware of the latest “improvements” in the power of these bombs and there was the ever present threat that Nikita might push the button to start a nuclear holocaust.

Atomic City Girls lifts the lid on some aspects of the Manhattan Project. A secret City was built at Oak Ridge in Tennessee. Thousands of people were employed there and most had no idea what they were actually doing. The scientists had developed a means to separate U235 from U238 and this was the basis of the first atomic bombs. The process required close monitoring and adjustment of controls. I have worked in steelmaking where furnaces are controlled automatically by instruments capable of monitoring and controlling factors such as fuel flow, temperature, air quality and a hundred other things.

At Oak Ridge there were no such sophisticated control instruments. Just a meter and a knob. Hundreds of young women sat on stools, watching the meters and turning the knobs whenever the pointer strayed from its set point. They worked day and night in 10 hour shifts and had no idea what it was that they were actually doing.

Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard, is a fascinating insight into life at Oak Ridge. Although the characters are fictitious, they are very believable. The book takes you there. It reads like history and has been very well researched. There are many photographs depicting life at Oak Ridge.

S and I found this book hard to put down. We both learned much that we had not known before reading it. Further research confirmed the events described in the book. It is a very human tale and gives an insight into the mind of one scientist in particular, his misgivings about the work and his fears about what this bomb will do… if it works.

Altogether an enjoyable and satisfying read about a time and place that changed the world.

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