LitPicks Book Reviews—May 2014

Theme—Women and the Bomb
This month's theme was inspired by two recent books on women and the Manhattan Project—one fiction and one history. Then we added a 2004 biography on Marie Curie, who helped usher in the nuclear age.

 

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The Wives of Los Alamos: A Novel
TaraShea Nesbit, 2014
240 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May, 2014
In luminous, at times poetic prose, TaraShea Nesbit has produced a small gem of a book as she imagines life for the women at famed Los Alamos. The women lived there, in the desert, from 1943 to the end of World War II while their physicists husbands built the first atomic bomb.

Smart, well educated, often professionals in their own right, the women are confined to ramshackle houses, raising children and complaining about dust and muddy water. They resent the secrecy which keeps them in ignorance of what their husbands are working on.

 

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The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
Denise Kiernan, 2013
416 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May 2014
Mud and secrecy are the two most salient facts of this engaging history of the women who thronged to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II. Thousands of them came—for good-paying jobs, adventure, or to follow husbands. They had no idea what they would be doing—or what they were working on once they got here. (They were enriching uranium.)

They slogged barefoot through mud (often knee-deep), worked hard, kept their heads down and their mouths shut. Their efforts, rarely acknowledged, helped bring about the end of World War II...and the world's deadliest weapon.

 

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Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie
Barbara Goldsmith, 2004
320 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May, 2014
More than 100 years on, Marie Curie is still the preeminent woman of science, taking her place alongside the likes of Rutherford, Einstein, Ferme, and Bohr (her contemporaries). Her achievements are numerous—and all the more dazzling because they were accomplished in the face of near poverty and an oppressively sexist culture.

This is the struggle told by Barbara Goldsmith in her lucid, wonderfully written biography. The author digs beneath the standard legend—created by headlines, biographies, and history books—to present a more personal portrait of a woman driven by obsession and "melancholy."

 

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