Book Chatter: The Girls of Atomic City


I’m a terrible American.

There’s barely enough room in my brain’s National Anthems Memory Center for one verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, but I’ve somehow managed to squeeze in one verse of “God Save the Queen”, two verses of “Advance Australia Fair”, and two half-verses of “Mazurek Dąbrowskiego”, plus all appropriate choruses. 

Moreover, while I can name all the monarchs of England since William the Conqueror (handily set to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”), ask me for the fourth American president and I’m stuck.

Finally, and perhaps most tragically this week, I don’t actually know what July 4 commemorates.

Hang on, let me check.

You're welcome.

Click for the link. (You’re welcome.)

Okay, here we go. July 4 is the anniversary of:

  • the Battle of Mantinea, marking the Thebans’ defeat of the Spartans (362 B.C.)
  • Saladin’s defeat of Guy of Lusignan (1187)
  • the birth of shogun Ashikaga Yoshiakira (1330)
  • the founding of Trois-Rivières, Québec (1634)
  • the Second Continental Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence (1776)
  • the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  • President Johnson signing the Freedom of Information Act into law (1966)

Clearly an important day for many. But all patriotic shortcomings aside, I do think today’s Book Chatter selection represents a piece of American history that everyone should know about: World War II and the dawn of the Atomic Era.

In The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, Denise Kiernan tells the story of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city that sprang up virtually overnight to aid the Manhattan Project. With a large portion of America’s men away at war, many of the jobs at the Oak Ridge facility fell to women, giving them a position of career growth and financial stability that they might not otherwise had had. If you’re interested in atomic history, WWII history, women’s history, or even urban planning, The Girls of Atomic City is definitely the perfect book for you over this long weekend … no matter whether you’re celebrating the Declaration of Independence or the Battle of Mantinea.

What’s your favorite American history book? Is there a particular era you like to focus on?


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