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The Girls of Atomic City

The Girls of Atomic City

The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

  • reading group guide
  • bestseller
  • freshman reading
The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—an incredible true story of the top-secret World War II town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the young women brought there unknowingly to help build the atomic bomb.

“The best kind of nonfiction: marvelously reported, fluidly written, and a remarkable story...As meticulous and brilliant as it is compulsively readable.” —Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City

At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, and consumed more electricity than New York City, yet it was shrouded in such secrecy that it did not appear on any map. Thousands of civilians, many of them young women from small towns across the U.S., were recruited to this secret city, enticed by the promise of solid wages and war-ending work. What were they actually doing there? Very few knew. The purpose of this mysterious government project was kept a secret from the outside world and from the majority of the residents themselves. Some wondered why, despite the constant work and round-the-clock activity in this makeshift town, did no tangible product of any kind ever seem to leave its guarded gates? The women who kept this town running would find out at the end of the war, when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed and changed the world forever.

Drawing from the voices and experiences of the women who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of World War II from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. “A phenomenal story,” and Publishers Weekly called it an “intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history.”

“Kiernan has amassed a deep reservoir of intimate details of what life was like for women living in the secret city...Rosie, it turns out, did much more than drive rivets.” —The Washington Post
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 416 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451617535 | 
  • March 2014
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Denise Kiernan: What Are You Reading?

Writing The Girls of Atomic City required hours in the library. Author Denise Kiernan, escapes from intense research by getting lost in Lee Child thrillers and Margaret Atwood novels.

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The Girls of Atomic City Introduction
There have long been secrets buried deep in the southern Appalachians, covered in layers of shale and coal, lying beneath the ancient hills of the Cumberlands, and lurking in the shadow of the Smokies at the tail end of the mountainous spine that ripples down the East Coast. This land of the Cherokee gave way to treaties and settlers and land grants. Newcomers traversed the Cumberland Gap to establish small farms and big lives in a region where alternating ridges and valleys cradle newborn... see more

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Girls of Atomic City includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Denise Kiernan. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Introduction The Girls of Atomic City tells the true story of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a secret city founded during World War II to help create fuel for the atomic bomb. Oak Ridge didn’t appear on any maps, but thousands of workers moved there during the war, enticed by good wages and war-ending work. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but the workers – many of them young, single and female – were excited to be “all in the same boat,” buoyed by a sense of shared purpose. But these hardworking young women also faced unexpected challenges. One young woman, Helen, was recruited to spy on her fellow workers. An African-American janitor, Kattie, faced daily discrimination and separation from her children in segregated Oak Ridge. Toni, a secretary, was mocked by her Northern bosses for her Tennessee accent. Dot, a factory operator, had lost a brother at Pearl Harbor and had two others still away fighting. Through it all, day in and day out, nobody knew what they were working on, only see more

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About the Author

Denise Kiernan
Treadshots.com

Denise Kiernan

Denise Kiernan has been working as a writer for nearly twenty years. Her most recent book, The Girls of Atomic City, is a New York Times, Los Angeles Times and NPRbestseller, and was named as one of Amazon’s Top 100 Best Books of 2013. She is also the author of popular history titles Signing Their Lives Away, Signing Their Rights Away, and Stuff Every American Should Know. She has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, Ms. Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Discover, and many more publications. She has also worked in television, serving as head writer for ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire during its Emmy award-winning first season and producing for media outlets such as ESPN and MSNBC.  She has been a featured guest on NPR’s“Weekend Edition,” PBS NewsHour, MSNBC Morning Joe, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

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