Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

That Denise Kiernan’s book is well researched is not in question. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II is meticulously researched, relying, I’m sure, on hundreds of hours of in-person interviews, library and on-site visits, and probably even a course or two on atomic physics.

The question, though, is “so what?”

Just because Kiernan knows from whence she speaks doesn’t mean there’s actually a story there to be told, at least not one with any dramatic tension or reason for being, outside of a general knowledge essay. Yup, I can probably answer more pub quiz questions about Oak Ridge, TN than I could before, but this book has all the compulsion and narrative thrust of a 10th grade research paper.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a good book in there someplace, it’s just Kiernan was too focused on making sure none of her research went to waste in order to find it. Too many times she brings us to the brink of caring about one of the figures only to have whatever possible danger they are in not matter in the slightest. There are never any stakes for anyone. Even something as simple as telling about sending a fruitcake overseas, with the dramatic intonation that if the packing isn’t done correctly will result in crumbs being delivered…is never paid off. Once that fruitcake is sent, we never hear about it again. But that’s an easy one. It’s more when we have two people sharing military secrets, away from prying eyes, while all the while hoping they don’t get caught, and guess what? They don’t get caught. Not even that, they’re never actually in any danger whatsoever.

And that’s the problem. No one is ever in danger, no matter how much they break the rules or do things they shouldn’t be doing. When one woman needs to cook, she simply bribes the guards with her delicious biscuits, and all is right in the world.

Ultimately, for me, the biggest problem is the lack of structure. Each chapter bounces from woman to woman and then ends with a section about the development of “tube alloy,” which has absolutely nothing to do with The Girls of Atomic City. It’s interesting, sure. Often times more interesting than the supposed main thrust of the book, but again, so what?

Had this been done as a series of essays, each focused on a particular woman, and carried her story from beginning to end, there might have been more coherence. Had we understood the timeline of the research in correlation with the goings-on at Oak Ridge, we might have cared more. But in the end, we didn’t care because there was nothing ever to care about. We were bored because there was no dramatic purpose for telling us the story, no real depth to the people we were being introduced to – who, I am sure, were lovely people, but who also had so little strife portrayed in their lives, even the black woman who was facing all sorts of segregation and racism but endured it all with a smile, that there was nothing of interest to keep us going.

I kept waiting to find out why The Girls of Atomic City were so important, but all I got were they were awesome support staff for the men, the real heroes here, and the only reason most of them showed up was to find a husband. And even those women who had degrees and brains all their own, once the war was over, became wives and mothers at their new husband’s beck and call, no longer working because that’s not what women did. And there was no pushback, no authorial commentary, no insight at all.

So as I say, the writing is decent, I just wish it lead somewhere.

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Did you have a favorite planet as a child?

grand_tour.width-1600A favorite planet? Who has a favorite planet? Well, if you’re a science fiction geek like me, I suppose that’s a fair question. I mean even now, as I write this, I can look up at framed artwork of faux travel posters put out by NASA for various planets in our solar system and further out in the galaxy.

But this question asks about favorite planet as a child and that requires a bit of thinking. Of course, the standard answer would consist of a 1 in 9* choice, right? Sure, we could get a bit more choice in there if we include the planet-like moons of the gas giants, which, if we were to colonize the outer reaches of our solar system, would be where we’d lay down roots. So now the obvious answer would be, say, a 1 out of 15 or so choice, yes? Continue reading “Did you have a favorite planet as a child?”

What are your favorite books?

This week’s question about my favorite books is, as you’ve probably guessed, going to be a bit more difficult than merely spitting out some title and moving on. Then again, this is my 16th answer, just over 30% done for the year of this project, and if you haven’t figured out by now that none of these answers are that simple for me, well then, you haven’t been paying attention. Continue reading “What are your favorite books?”

On Literary and Genre Canon

pile-of-assorted-novel-books-694740.jpgWhile on lockdown and teaching from home this week, my Media Issues class discussed the idea of “canon” in literature and they asked me if I would give them a list of things I think should/could be canon. Immediately I said the only list I could really give them were my own thoughts and they said that was fine, so here we go. Continue reading “On Literary and Genre Canon”

On Preparedness

IMG_4509.jpegSo I just got back from a wonderful trip to Disneyland Paris (which you can read all about here) but as I was unpacking I realized something. See that book over to the left? Golden Blood by Jack Williamson? I’ve never read it. And yet, it’s travelled with me all over the globe.

See, whenever I travel, in addition to all my electronics, I always bring a good, old fashioned paperback book, just in case. In case of what? I don’t know. In case with all my battery operated equipment I somehow have a power failure and find myself stranded alone with nothing to do? Maybe? Continue reading “On Preparedness”

Marilyn Monroe’s personal library: an epic reading list | AbeBooks’ Reading Copy

In 1999, Christie’s staged an auction of Marilyn Monroe’s belongings, including her books. The books in Marilyn Monroe’s personal library, number between 400-500 titles, and reflect a wide range of interests and maturity levels.

When she died in 1962, she was only 36 years old and had publicly made the statement she found intellect the sexiest attribute a person could have.

I can only imagine what she would have done had she lived longer. I think the world definitely missed out on something good here.

Is There a Perfect Order to Watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Movies?

Well… there might be?

Or there might not.

The truth of the matter is that with Avengers Endgame showing up in less than a month, an event which is the culmination of 11 years and 21 feature films, a lot of people, including me, are trying to catch up and reinvesitigate everything leading up to this momentous occasion. All of which led me to wonder what is the best way to deal with the rewatch (not to mention that at some point in the future, I’ll be doing it all over again with Monki, I hope) Continue reading “Is There a Perfect Order to Watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Movies?”

Audiobooks – a good listen

man wearing black headphones beside train rail
Photo by Burst on

So it’s no secret I love to read. Over the last decade or so, I’ve also picked up the audiobook habit. If I’m walking around the streets, or on the bus on the way to work, odds are I’ve got my headphones in and I’m listening to a book. Over at Goodreads, you can see my audiobook list (as of right now, at almost 400 books long), which has a number of classics I’ve always wanted to read but never got around to or wasn’t able to get into in text form. I’ll also pick up dramatized productions and old radio shows. Continue reading “Audiobooks – a good listen”

Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

51uogui4mvl-_sx327_bo1204203200_Bonfire by Krysten Ritter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Like most people, I came to this book through the auspices of Krysten Ritter, actor. Her performances in various TV shows have long since labeled me a fan. Add to that I like a good mystery novel and this seemed like something at least worth a try.

It was. And more. Continue reading “Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter”

Review: Fantasticland by Mike Bockoven

36639163FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had such potential.

The basic premise, that a storm wipes out contact with the skeleton crew of a Disney-esque amusement park, who then revert to literal tribalism and savagery fits in well with today’s YS dystopias and the tagline of “Lord of the Flies” meets “Battle Royale” is fairly accurate. Continue reading “Review: Fantasticland by Mike Bockoven”