Denise Kiernan‘s book is subtitled The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win WWII. No matter what you think of the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the story of the thousands and thousands of people who came to a huge tract of muddy land in rural Tennessee to work at the Clinton Engineer Works is fascinating. I admit I did not know about Oak Ridge, or site X, and only vaguely knew of Hanford, WA, because when we lived near Seattle the extent of radioactive contamination there was big news. But I never realized either site was part of the Manhattan Project. I knew the bomb was built and tested in New Mexico, and that was about it.
The Girls of Atomic City really illuminates the massive size of the Project, the web of protection the government wove around the work at Oak Ridge, where uranium was enriched, and the impact the Project had on ordinary lives. The women Kiernan interviewed and writes about are examples of how much independence women gained when they entered the work force in support of the war effort, and of how fleeting it was for most of them, when marriage and motherhood often meant the end of a woman’s work outside the home.
I enjoyed reading about the sociological aspects of life in a top secret community — where workers were warned that spies and informants may be afoot, and their fellow workers were drafted as “creeps,” who watched and listened for anyone spilling secrets. It is remarkable that the majority of the thousands of workers also had no idea what they were making; each knew how to do their own work and did just that little bit. Disturbingly, most didn’t even know what were working with. Only on Aug. 6, 1945, did it become apparent.
Kiernan’s structure, however, made the book less enjoyable for me. There were chapters about some of the individual women she interviewed, and chapters about the Manhattan Project and the scientists whose work made nuclear weapons possible, and these alternated. There was some chronological order, but otherwise the story jumped around. Perhaps because I did not read in long sittings but a few pages at a time, I frequently felt a little lost. Maybe this is a narrative device employed to recreate the sense of secrecy? If so it worked; personally, as a reader, I prefer more straightforward storytelling, especially for nonfiction. An interesting read, nonetheless.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged 20th century, book reviews, Clinton Engineer Works, Denise Kiernan, Hanford, Hiroshima, Los Alamos, Nagasaki, nonfiction, nuclear war, nuclear weapons, Oak Ridge, reading, Site X, sociology, Tennessee, The Girls of Atomic City, the Manhattan Project, women's history, WWII | Leave a Comment »
In this week’s column I review Concord native Warren Zanes‘ new biography, Petty. If you live nearby you can hear Zanes read from the book this week at Gibson’s Bookstore.
Here’s the beginning of the review:
Concord native Warren Zanes first met Tom Petty when Zanes was a member of the Del Fuegos. He describes the event in his new biography, “Petty,” a little awestruck by his own 20-year-old audacity:
“Every evening from the stage we informed the audience that we wanted Tom Petty to come down to a show. During the days between the gigs, in every interview we did, we said the same thing to journalists. We figured someone out there had to know more than we did about how to get Tom Petty out of the house.” Zanes casually adds that, after the word started to spread, he got a call in his hotel room at 3 a.m. It was Tom Petty.
Read the rest here.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged biographies, book reviews, Concord, Del Fuegos, Gibson's Bookstore, music bios, New Hampshire Sunday News, Tom Petty, Warren Zanes | Leave a Comment »
This short novel is from Europa Editions, a publisher I’ve praised on the blog many times for bringing terrific international fiction to American readers. When I ordered The Red Collar for my library’s collection I tagged it as a book I was especially looking forward to and it was just as I’d hoped. If you had to explain to someone what it means to be human you could give them this book.
Jean-Christophe Rufin is one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. He’s also a diplomat, who served as France’s ambassador to Senegal and an accomplished novelist who has twice won the Prix Goncourt, one of France’s major literary awards. I’ve never read his work before.
The Red Collar is about Wilhelm, a briard sheepdog mix, who followed Jacques Morlac when he was mobilized to fight in the French army in 1915. When the book opens, Morlac is in prison and Whilhelm is outside “baying relentlessly.” Major Hugues Lantier du Grez is the officer investigating Morlac’s case. When he arrives in the village to question Morlac and determine his fate, Lantier is taken with the dog’s loyalty.
Through his interviews with Morlac, we learn that Lantier witnessed an extreme act of canine bravery and loyalty in his childhood, that predisposed him to admire Wilhelm. Rufin writes of Lantier, “He had joined the army to defend order against barbary. . . .It wasn’t long before war came along and showed him that the opposite was true, that order feeds off human beings, that it consumes them and crushes them. But deep down and in spite of everything, he was still bound to his vocation. And that vocation had its origins in the actions of a dog.”
We also learn that Morlac feels respect for Wilhelm but no particular affection, even though the dog followed him all the way to Macedonia and is responsible for the events that led to Morlac’s Legion of Honor, the highest military commendation in France. Lantier finds out that Valentin, Morlac’s pre-war love and the mother of his child, has not seen him since his return from the war, and has a connection to Wilhelm as well. Through these three lives, and Wilhelm’s, Rufin compares human and animal nature, explores the hopes and disillusionment of the people sent to fight in WWI and the civilians they left behind, and most of all, dissects the concepts of faithfulness and pride.
This compact, beautifully written book is a gem. Rufin manages, in a very entertaining story, to distill the human heart. He gets to the essence of human experience as manifested in philosophy, politics, and love. And he pays tribute to dogs’ faithfulness. All in 150 pages. A terrific read.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged book reviews, dogs, Europa Editions, fiction, human nature, Jean-Christophe Rufin, novellas, The Red Collar, translations, WWI | Leave a Comment »
This week, a fellow librarian’s debut novel in The Mindful Reader Column.
Here’s the beginning:
“Concord resident Max Wirestone‘s debut novel, The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, is a “geek” mystery. As library director in New Durham, he noticed many geeks (devoted, possibly even immersive fans of gaming, the internet, comics, and/or related topics) also liked mysteries. So he decided to write a book for both geeks and mystery lovers. I don’t know if Wirestone invented the geek mystery sub-genre, but I can say The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is unlike anything else I’ve ever read.”
Read the rest here.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged book reviews, Concord, debut fiction, geek culture, geeks, librarians, Max Wirestone, mysteries, novels, reading, The Mindful Reader column, The New Hampshire Sunday News, The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss | Leave a Comment »