THE ATOMIC CITY GIRLS


In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes this riveting novel of the everyday people who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II.

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks.

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In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes this riveting novel of the everyday people who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II.

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

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  • William Morrow Paperbacks
  • Paperback
  • February 2018
  • 384 Pages
  • 9780062666710

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$15.99

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About Janet Beard

Born and raised in East Tennessee, Janet Beard earned an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio.

Author Website

Praise

“Beard has taken a project of momentous impact and injected a human element into it. […] This is approachable, intelligent, and highly satisfying historical fiction.”Booklist (starred review)

“Focuses on the little-known realities behind the Manhattan Project […] Readers who enjoyed Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls will appreciate this glimpse into the beliefs and attitudes that shaped America during World War II.”Library Journal

“The Atomic City Girls is a fascinating and compelling novel about a little-known piece of WWII history.”—Maggie Leffler, international bestselling author (Globe and Mail) of The Secrets of Flight

Essay

Time Line of Events

Manhattan Project Event
World War II Event
‘The Atomic City Girls’ Event

1937
July     Japan invades China.

1938
March     Germany annexes Austria.

December      Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discover the process of fission in uranium    in Germany. Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch confirm the discovery.

1939
August      Physicist Leo Szilard writes a letter that Albert Einstein signs to send to President Roosevelt warning of the possibility of Nazi development of atomic weapons and urging that the U.S. begin its own nuclear research program.

September      Germany invades Poland. Great Britain and France declare war on Germany, and          World War II begins.

October      Roosevelt commissions the Advisory Committee on Uranium.

1940
March      John R. Dunning and his colleagues at Columbia University verify Niels Bohr’s hypothesis that fission is more readily produced in the rare uranium-235 isotope than the abundant uranium-238.

April     Germany invades Norway and Denmark.

May      Germany initiates attacks on Western Europe and soon takes control of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

June      Italy enters the war, joining the Axis powers.

July      Germany begins air attacks on Great Britain.

In response to a memorandum from University of Birmingham scientists Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls concerning the possibility of creating an atomic bomb, Winston Churchill establishes the MAUD Committee to further investigate.

In the U.S., the Advisory Committee on Uranium becomes part of the newly established National Defense Research Committee (NDRC).

1941
February     Glenn Seaborg’s research group discovers plutonium.

June      Axis forces invade the Soviet Union.

Roosevelt creates the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), which is headed by Vannevar Bush and absorbs the NDRC. 

July      The MAUD Committee issues a report concluding that an atomic bomb is feasible. Bush receives a copy.

October      Bush briefs Roosevelt on the MAUD Report. The president approves a project    to confirm the findings.

December      Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. enters World War II.

First meeting of the S-1 Uranium Committee (part of the OSRD) dedicated to developing nuclear weapons.

1942
January      Roosevelt authorizes production of an atomic bomb.

February      Japan captures Singapore.

April        The U.S. strikes Japan from the air for the first time.

May      Japan captures the Philippines and Burma. Allied bombing of Germany begins.

June      The Allies defeat Japan in the Battle of Midway.

The S-1 Executive Committee is formed, consisting of Bush, James Conant, Arthur Compton, Ernest Lawrence, and Harold Urey. Roosevelt approves their recommendation to  move to the pilot plant stage and build piles to produce plutonium and electromagnetic, centrifuge, and gaseous diffusion plants to produce uranium-235.

Production pile designs are developed at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago.

August      The Manhattan Engineering District is established by the Army Corps of                Engineers. 

September     Colonel Leslie Groves is appointed director of the Manhattan Engineering District and promoted to brigadier general.

The Army Corps of Engineers moves to acquire 56,000 acres in East Tennessee.

November      The Allies defeat Japan in the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Groves chooses J. Robert Oppenheimer to head the research into the design of a weapon. Together they decide on Los Alamos, New Mexico, as the site for the laboratory.

June’s grandfather is forced to sell his farm to the U.S. Army.

December      The first nuclear reactor goes critical at the University of Chicago, creating a self-sustained nuclear reaction, under the direction of Enrico Fermi. 

1943
January      Groves selects a third Manhattan Engineering District site, Hanford, Washington, for plutonium production.

February      The Soviets defeat Germany in the Battle of Stalingrad.

Construction of the electromagnetic separation plant Y-12 and pilot plutonium production plant X-10 begins in Oak Ridge.

April      The laboratory at Los Alamos begins operations.

May      Axis forces in Tunisia surrender, ending the North African campaign.

July      Allied troops invade Sicily.

Joe and Ralph arrive in Oak Ridge.

September      Italy surrenders to the Allied forces.

Construction of the gaseous diffusion production facility K-25 begins in Oak Ridge.

November      U.S. forces invade Tarawa.

The X-10 graphite reactor goes critical.

Sam arrives in Oak Ridge.

1944
February      Y-12 sends 200 grams of enriched uranium to Los Alamos.

May      June’s friend Ronnie joins the Army and asks her to marry him.

June      Allied forces invade Normandy on D-Day.

August      The Allies liberate Paris.

September       June’s fiancé Ronnie is killed in Saint-Malo, France.

October       U.S. troops land in the Philippines.

Cici arrives in Oak Ridge.

November      June arrives in Oak Ridge.

December      Germany launches its last major offensive, the Battle of the Bulge.

Cici and Tom meet.

June and Sam meet.

1945
March      The Allies capture the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.

K-25 begins production. 

April     Roosevelt dies, and Harry Truman becomes president.

Joe is offered a job as a janitor.

The Soviets encircle Berlin, and Hitler commits suicide.

May     Sam is promoted, and June becomes his secretary.

Germany surrenders, bringing an end to the war in Europe.

Joe’s family joins him in Oak Ridge.

June      The Allies capture Okinawa.

Cici becomes engaged to Tom.

July      Los Alamos scientists successfully explode the first atomic bomb at the Trinity test in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Truman informs Stalin that the U.S. has an atomic bomb, unaware that the Soviet leader has already learned of the nuclear program through espionage.

The Allies issue the Potsdam Declaration, demanding Japan’s surrender.

August      Ralph disappears.

The B-29 Enola Gay drops Little Boy, a uranium weapon, on the city of Hiroshima.

The Soviet Union declares war on Japan.

Fat Man, a plutonium weapon, is dropped on the city of Nagasaki.

Japan surrenders, bringing World War II to an end.

June leaves Oak Ridge.