Review: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II ~ Denise Kiernan

atomic cityISBN ~ 978-1451617528
Publisher ~ Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
No. Of Pages ~ 373 pages
Links ~ The Girls of Atomic City, Amazon, Indie Bound, Simon & Schuster

The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.

The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!

But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.

Though the young women originally believed they would leave Oak Ridge after the war, many met husbands there, made lifelong friends, and still call the seventy-year-old town home. The reverberations from their work there—work they didn’t fully understand at the time—are still being felt today. In The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan traces the astonishing story of these unsung WWII workers through interviews with dozens of surviving women and other Oak Ridge residents. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this is history and science made fresh and vibrant—a beautifully told, deeply researched story that unfolds in a suspenseful and exciting way.

3 Thumbs-UpAs part of my attempt to widen my reading scope, I started on the non-fiction journey with this book.  From the synopsis I felt it would cover a lot of my interests; WWII, women’s roles during that time and the uncovering of a war work that was kept secret at the time.

In a lot of senses this book did hit all those things on the head, but it still felt lacking in a way that I could not quite put my finger on.  Covering a variety of young, and not so young, women from a variety of societal and ethnic backgrounds this book managed to paint a very real picture of what life must have been like living and working on a top-secret compound in the middle of nowhere.  Although no one woman’s life was written about in detail and depth, I felt that this did not detract from the book in any way as I felt to have done so would most likely have resulted in the omission of something else.

In this books pages the reader can learn about the process of both thought and scientific work that led up to the deployment of fat man and little boy, and the scientific parts of the book that traces the journey and developed of tubealloy, as it was called, is informative and educational without being dry and dusty; not being a chemistry or engineering buff myself I found I learnt a lot from these parts of the book.

There are some wonderful black and white photographs in this book that help illustrate the vastness of the place called Oak Ridge, and also some then and now pictures of three of the women mentioned in the book.  It would have been nice to see some now pictures of the site to see what had become of the place rather than have to do an internet search to satisfy my curiosity.

It is apparent from the way in which the book is written, that the Author spent an extensive amount of time research the topic and talking with those who were there at the time; I wonder if my feeling of something being lacking in its pages, and the reason for my 3 thumbs review, being a result of some information that would have filled these ‘gaps’ still being sealed to the researcher.  Another reason for my 3 thumbs review was the random and rather silly typos that appeared in the book.  These could easily have been picked up by a more skilled proof reader and editor, and lifted my review rating.

Despite the low rating I would still recommend this book to any reader interested in this era, and wanting a satisfying and easy read.

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When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II ~ Molly Guptill Manning

when books went to warISBN ~ 978-0544535022
Publisher ~ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
No. Of Pages ~ 288 pages

 
I found this interesting article on thedailybeast.com and, because it involved books, wanted to share this with you.  I’m definitely going to be hunting this book down as it looks to be well worth the read.

“When the American armed forces prepared for the D-Day assault, the most in demand item was a book.

During World War II, books were one of the few items distributed to the American armed forces that were meant to make life at war bearable. American publishers, wanting to do their bit in the war, designed books that would fit the servicemen’s needs: small volumes in tempting titles that weighed next to nothing. These books were Armed Services Editions (“ASEs”), incredibly tiny paperbacks designed to fit the pocket of a standard issue military uniform. Over 120 million were printed over the course of the war with titles ranging from comics to Shakespeare and everything in between. Lonesome, homesick GIs eagerly grabbed these books and read them everywhere—while waiting in line for chow or a haircut, when pinned down in a foxhole, and while swinging in their hammocks below deck. And they were even carried into the Battle of Normandy.

Under the leadership of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, plans for D-day were in the works for months before the invasion occurred in June 1944. In the final days leading to the boarding of the landing craft that would set out across the English Channel, American soldiers readied themselves. They crammed into their packs dozens of pounds of ammunition, provisions, extra weapons, and other necessities. Although the recommendation was that the men not bring more than forty-four pounds of equipment, it was estimated that some men weighed at least three hundred pounds as they waddled under the weight of their packs. As they waited for an announcement of when the invasion would begin, there was little to do but worry, pray, or read. Silence pervaded. A rosary could be seen in many a hand. According to one man, “Priests were in their heyday. I even saw Jews go and take communion. Everybody [was] scared to death.”

General Eisenhower took an especial interest in the morale of his troops. As he noted in his own memoirs, “morale, given rough equality to other things, is supreme on the battlefield.” Eisenhower was known to read western novels to relax and relieve stress, and the men who would be doing the fighting deserved no less. Anticipating the time it would take to assemble all of the men needed for the mission, and the boredom and anxiety associated with the chore of waiting, General Eisenhower’s staff earmarked over a half-million books to be distributed to the Americans as they waited for the invasion to begin. Among the ASEs that were set aside were Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Joseph Mitchell’s McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, Charles Spalding and Otis Carney’s Love at First Flight, Booth Tarkington’s Penrod, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dozens of other titles joined the men on the shore of the English Channel.

Prior to the invasion, the Army’s Special Services Division, which was responsible for serving the morale needs of soldiers, distributed some of the soldiers’ favorite items. Packs of cigarettes were shoved into pockets, candy bars were grabbed by the handful, but of all things, the most sought-after item was the ASEs. As one Special Services officer recalled, palpable tension mounted in the staging areas, and books were the only thing available that “provided sorely needed distraction to a great many men.” When the loading process finally began, many men, realizing how much weight they were carrying, stopped to unburden themselves of unnecessary items near the docking area. The ground was littered with a variety of objects, but among the heaps of discarded inessentials “very few Armed Services Editions were found by the clean-up squads that later went through the areas.” Weighing as little as a couple of ounces each, ASEs were the lightest weapon that the men could bring along.

The Americans who landed at Utah and Omaha Beaches on June 6 had vastly different experiences. The American Fourth Division poured ashore at Utah Beach, meeting very little opposition. In fact, some men were a little let down at how anticlimactic the landing was; they described it as seeming like just another practice invasion. The early waves of troops landing at Omaha Beach, by contrast, faced near-certain death. As soon as the transports lowered their ramps, the exiting men were thrust into the line of fire. German machine-gun spray ripped across the boats, instantly killing the hapless Americans on them. For the first wave of LCIs that reached Omaha Beach, the death rate was nearly 100 percent; no one got off the beach. Later waves of troops faced grievous losses on the shore. Shell-shocked, many men simply froze, unable to move toward safety. Others who forded through the barrage of gunfire and mortar blasts and moved to the shelter of the cliffs at the top of the beach suffered injuries along the way. Unable to go farther, their shattered bodies dropped to the sand and stayed there until medics arrived. Many men who climbed the beach later that day would never forget the sight of gravely wounded soldiers propped up against the base of the cliffs, reading.”

Excerpted from When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. Copyright © 2014 by Molly Guptill Manning.

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Review: A Knock on a Door ~ Christos Kallis

A knock on the doorISBN ~ 978-1849635806
Publisher ~Austin Macauley
No. Of Pages ~ 37 pages
Links ~ Amazon

A Knock on a Door is the debut collection of poetry from Christos Kallis. It demonstrates great flexibility of style, experimental touches and eccentric twists. The poems range from the abstract to the lyrical, from explorations of religion to love and the human condition.

4 Thumbs-UpReading poetry is one of those things that not many will take the time to do, and in not doing so those readers are missing out, in this case, on a collection of poems that will touch everyone in some way.

Unlike many collections which tend to wax lyrical about the beauty of love, life and nature this collection does none of those things.  It is extremely well written and aimed at disarming the reader and making them confront the emotions the poems evoke when read.  The poems themselves were easy to read, and if I happened to get lost in a poem a quick read back through the Authors notes would help set me back on track, and get into my groove again.

Although this is poetry, the poems themselves read like fiction.  They flowed, contained characters, had twists and turns and made me think; I mean really think.  The reason for my 4 thumbs review is that there just were not enough of these poems and, as I closed the book on the last one I felt at a loss as to what I should do; so I picked up the book and started reading it again.

This is short review, as I feel that to do the collection any justice at all the best thing I can say is that if you only read one book of poetry this year, make sure this is the one.  I highly recommend this book to everyone and will be eagerly awaiting the next collection this poet releases.

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Review: Vietnam Reflections ~ Steve McKenna

Vietnam ReflectionsISBN ~ 978-1608080526
Publisher ~Writelife
No. Of Pages ~ 204 pages
Links ~ bqb Publishing, Amazon

Vietnam Reflections is a haunting account of the effects of the Vietnam War. Written with such vivid imagery and detail, the reader will feel every heartbeat, every squash of a soldier’s boot in the Delta Rice Paddy, and will hear the whistling of incoming rounds as they find their mark. At times inspiring, and at times bringing the reader to tears, Vietnam Reflections is a collection of stories that trace the evolution of several eighteen-year-old farm boys who went off to war. When they finally returned home, they found that their service and sacrifices were for naught. Following their return to the States, the soldiers were left to survive on their own. Many found that the only way out of Vietnam for good was to end their own lives or to live homeless. These stories are their voice- their screams- about a distant place and a distant time, about a war that went amok… a war that many Americans wish to forget.

5 Thumbs-UpThere are many books available for the reader interested in the Viet Nam war, many written by historians or Officers that were there during the war.  They cover the commanding of Soldiers or the events that led up to the war, not many are written by the ‘boots on ground’ Soldier; this is one such book and is a debut ‘novel’ from this Author.

I use the word ‘novel’ in a loose term when talking about this book because, as I read it I realised this wasn’t a fictionalised account of the war, but the thoughts and feelings of one of the veterans of a war the country would rather forget.

This book grips the reader from the first page and takes them inside the mind of one of those ‘grunts’; you remember them, the ones who on returning home found a nation that turned their collective backs on them.  Through the Authors words I was made to feel the emotions he experienced when his friends died in arms; be a party to the thoughts that when through his mind whilst enduring day-to-day living in country that didn’t want him there.

This book pulls no punches, but should be a must read for anyone who thinks the veterans of that era are not deserving of our respect.  By the time I finished this book my emotions were raw, and I felt a connection with this Author that was really unexpected.  I’m not sure if this was due to the fact that my Husband is an Active Duty Soldier, or the fact that this Author manages to convey the horrors of war in such a way that the reader can’t help but be moved; I have a feeling it was both.

This Author lays bare his soul for all to see.  I hope it helps him on his road to healing.  I would highly recommend this book to any who are looking to read about how the war really affected those who fought it.

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Review: The Roses of No Man’s Land ~ Lyn Macdonald

rosesISBN ~ 978-0140178661
Publisher ~Penguin Books
No. Of Pages ~384 pages
Links ~ Penguin Books, Amazon

Drawing on the experiences of survivors of World War I, the author wrote a story of courage and endurance: the story of men who suffered physical and mental wounds; of volunteer nurses transported from their drawing rooms into carnage; and of doctors struggling to cope with the devastation.

5 Thumbs-UpIt is hard to believe that this year, 2014, sees the 100 year anniversary of World War I.  What is tragic is also the fact that there are now no more living veterans from that war; the last dying in 2012 at the age of 110.  It is this last point that makes books like this an invaluable addition to any home bookshelf and library, as it pulls on interviews with those who were there.  However, this is not the usual book on the Great War, as it does not just tell the tale of those who fought in the traditional sense, but also looks at the stories and experiences of those groups of unsung heroines, the Nurses.

Using extensive research this Author produces a compelling account of ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances.  Ladies taken out of the security and safety of their drawing rooms and thrown into the horrors of war, men who traded in pitchforks for bayonets some who would never return and those who did, would return changed forever.  This is a book full of poignant accounts of how these people watched, not only their peers die in the Great War, but also the world they knew and loved.

With great skill this Author is able to weave together the chronology of the war with firsthand accounts of the women who nursed these wounded and broken men.  Not all the injuries they nursed were visible, some were hidden in the depths of the mind, making this a book that hand me drawing my breath as I read on.

As the majority of the accounts in this book are from the Nurses point of view, with some given by men in the position of doctors and orderlies, this book also highlights how, out of great suffering some important aspects of medical care were advanced.  Each chapter also focuses on a different part played in evacuating the British Soldier from the frontline to the eventual hospital care they would receive if they made the journey alive; the reader is given accounts from the stretcher bearer in the dreaded No Man’s Land to the volunteers at the stations who changed pillow cases and lit cigarettes for the wounded, sometimes just holding a hand and talking to them, through to the final destination of these injured men.

It is by no means an easy read, and I found myself in awe at these women who would sometimes work up to 22 hours a day without complaint, and in such a matter of fact way it would put modern day medical staff to shame.  Their living conditions were primitive and for many came as a huge shock when compared to the cosseted lives they had led up to the outbreak of war.

I have read many books about WWI but this has to be amongst the best I have read.  It shows how courage can come in many forms and from the most unlikely people, but it also highlights the point that, although the war may have destroyed a generation of men, both mentally and physically, it actually played a large and important role in recreating the role of women in that time.

I would highly recommend this book to all readers regardless of whether they are avid WWI readers or not.  We can learn a lot about attitude from this book.

As an afterthought I decided to add that a contemporary song was written as a tribute to the Red Cross Nurses at the front lines of the First World War ‘The Rose of No Man’s Land’ by Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan, and I have included this below:

roseI’ve seen some beautiful flowers,
Grow in life’s garden fair,
I’ve spent some wonderful hours,
Lost in their fragrance rare;
But I have found another,
Wondrous beyond compare.

There’s a rose that grows on “No Man’s Land”
And it’s wonderful to see,
Tho’ its spray’d with tears, it will live for years,
In my garden of memory.

It’s the one red rose the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s hand;
Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”.

Out of the heavenly splendour,
Down to the trail of woe,
God in his mercy has sent her,
Cheering the world below;
We call her “Rose of Heaven”,
We’ve learned to love her so.

There’s a rose that grows on “No Man’s Land”
And it’s wonderful to see,
Tho’ its spray’d with tears, it will live for years,
In my garden of memory.

It’s the one red rose the soldier knows,
It’s the work of the Master’s hand;
Mid the War’s great curse, Stands the Red Cross Nurse,
She’s the rose of “No Man’s Land”.

 

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Review: Audacious Escapades in the Fabulous Columbia River Gorge ~ Marc E. Paulsen

Columbia River GorgeISBN ~ 978-0977473717
Publisher ~ Marc Paulsen Press
No. Of Pages ~ 124 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books

Marc Paulsen has had a lifelong infatuation with the marvelous Gorge of the Columbia River, partly from many unique experiences on and near the old highway and also from his belief that the Columbia Gorge ranks among the world’s natural wonders. After countless trips through the Gorge covering 6 decades, he is still awestruck each repeat trip. May you enjoy Marc’s tales of youthful exuberance and humorous escapades…and allow a bit of charity in your judgments.

The book details some of Marc’s wilder adventures on the old road which will have to be chalked up to youthful exuberance and the reader must understand that he is a reformed man!

From its opening on July 6, 1915, first-time tourists unfailingly found the remarkable old Columbia River Highway awe-inspiring. To Marc at age eleven, the highway’s magnificence in beauty and construction struck indelible memories.

This book’s frontispiece is a reproduction of designer Lancaster’s lovingly created inscription to a friend. A supremely elegant execution of hand-calligraphy, he placed it in a 1916 edition of his detailed book telling his Columbia River Highway story. His superb hand lettering and the majestic highway he designed are one and the same in supremacy–masterpieces of artistic design and engineering. Even now, it is impossible to drive the few existing old highway sections without a warm feeling that one is rolling along cradled in the arms of this eminent design master. The highway and his brilliant plan for an artful Crown Point rest station enroute were so grandiose that it was as if Lancaster had borrowed concepts from the art world’s old masters. They were that good!

4 Thumbs-UpI first visited the Gorge last year, intending to be there for only two days we were snowed in, that is when I discovered this book in the hotel library.  If you live in Washington State or Oregon, this book is something you really need to pick up, even if you don’t live in these two states it is worth the time it takes to open the cover and dive in.

This is a little book full of history and anecdotes, and revisits a way of a life that children are not able to enjoy in this day and age; although humourous in parts this realisation of what children are missing out on today also makes it very poignant and a reflection on the world we now inhabit.  What really drew me into this book was the way in which the history of the Columbia River Gorge was laid out; it wasn’t stuffy or preachy but told in a way that encourages readers to want to get out there and experience the place for themselves, whether it be by car, bicycle or hiking on many of the trails mentioned.  To support the escapade and history telling the Author has included some wonderful pictures which just made this book all the more interesting.

I would have liked to maybe see some actual trail recommendations in the back of the book, for those who were inspired to experience the beauty of the Gorge for themselves, but unfortunately there were none which makes a visit here something that needs to be planned precisely; this was reason for the 4 thumbs review.  Apart from that I will be getting my hands on a copy for my bookshelves, and would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a travel book, that really isn’t a travel book.

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Love Poem for Wednesday ~ Sandra Beasley

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Love Poem for Wednesday

You’re the day after Tuesday, before eternity.
You’re the day we ran out of tomatoes
and used tiny packets of ketchup instead.

You are salt, no salt, too much salt, a hangover.
You hold the breath of an abandoned cave.
Sometimes you surprise me with your

aurora borealis and I’ll pull over to watch you;
I’ll wait in the dark shivering fields of you.
But mostly, not. My students don’t care for you

or your lessons from the life of a minor god.
Can you hit the high C in our anthem?
Can you bench press a national disaster?

I fear for you, Wednesday. Your papers
are never in order. Your boots track in mud.
You’re the day I realized I didn’t even like him,

and the day I still said yes, yes, yes.
Sometimes I think you and I should elope,
and leave this house of cards to shuffle itself.

You are love, no love, too much love, a cuckold.
You are the loneliest of the three bears, hoping
to come home and find someone in your bed.

Sandra Beasley

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