A fresh take on the secret city built in the mountains of Tennessee as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II.
Kiernan (co-author: Stuff Every American Should Know, 2012, etc.) examines the construction of what became known as Oak Ridge, Tenn., a city built as part of the atomic bomb program. She has worked intensively with surviving women members of the work force and with local residents to put together the oral history on which this account is based. In the two years after the federal government took ownership of around 80,000 acres of mountain woodland and farm sites, the population rose to 75,000, and consumption of electric power from the nearby generating plant outpaced New York City. Many of the workers recruited were young women from farm backgrounds whom project administrators judged to be particularly suitable to the kinds of work that needed to be done, under the veil of secrecy that was imposed. The security and discouragement from talking about work becomes a pervasive feature of Kiernan’s narrative. Those who violated guidelines were speedily removed, never to be seen around the site again. The author parallels her account of the construction of Oak Ridge with chapters on the development of the science that made nuclear fission possible, and she shows how Oak Ridge became a city and community after the war.
An inspiring account of how people can respond with their best when called upon.