Sunday, June 15, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 61-63

61) The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

A rambling yet absorbing look at the lives of the women--and some of the men--who helped develop the atomic bomb, focused heavily on Oak Ridge, TN, but with occasional side trips elsewhere. I'd never paid much attention to this aspect of WWII. Most of my interest, such as it is, has focused on the war in Europe and the Holocaust.

Growing up I was taught that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end the war because Japan just wasn't going to surrender, that the only other alternative was invading Japan at the loss of maybe 100,000 American lives. Now...well, I don't suppose I should be surprised to learn that this history wasn't as simple as I was taught in school and at my very patriotic mother's knee when nothing else is, either. Those weren't the only two alternatives--to name just one simple possibility, there was at least some talk of having Japanese envoys see a test of a nuclear weapon so they'd know what we could do. I suppose once the science was out there, development of atomic bombs was inevitable, and I'm pragmatist enough to accept that meant America had to have its own arsenal. For all the madness of it, Mutually Assured Destruction did keep the Cold War from going hot. But we could've won WWII without unleashing it.

That's not what this book is really about, though. It's a story about young women coming of age and building a community in a time of crisis, and I admired them and their spirit. Still, I set the book down sputtering about how there was a better way, not to mention my indignation at the account of testing the effects of radioactive materials on a patient who neither knew nor consented to such a test (NATURALLY a black construction worker at the site who'd come into the Oak Ridge hospital with broken legs but otherwise healthy), along with disbelief that the general in charge of the project recommended that the bomb's first target be Kyoto.

What a brilliant and appalling species we are.

62) The Lucky Charm by Beth Bolden

I tend to be wary of both self-published books by authors without a traditional publishing background and sports romances. Too many of the former don't even have a nodding acquaintance with grammar, and too many of the latter don't seem driven by the love of the game itself. I've read baseball books where the author apparently didn't grasp how a pitching rotation works, and I've read reviews of football books where I'm not sure the author had ever watched an entire football game, much less one featuring the extremely famous team she was writing about.

But this book was talked up a few weeks ago on the Dear Bitches Smart Author podcast, and since I trust Jane and Sarah, I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It's a sweet, engaging romantic comedy about a reluctant sideline reporter and a second baseman desperate to get the (obviously fictional) Portland Pioneers to a playoff spot for the first time. As a fan desperate to see the Seattle Mariners make it to the World Series for the first time, I found the premise entirely relatable, and the baseball felt real enough that I was never thrown out of the story as a serious fan.

63) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I live in an entire household of introverts. I'm not the most extreme introvert in the world--and am arguably the most extroverted member of my immediate family--but I still come home every night exhausted from all the social engagement in my very pleasant job with fun coworkers that happens to be in a noisy, open-plan office. This book is a lovely affirmation of who introverts are and how challenging it can be to function in extroverted Western culture.


  1. If you really want to curl your hair, read The Plutonium Files. Radioactive iron injected into pregnant women (poor ones, of course). Orphans treated with plutonium. Soldiers sent to march up close to bomb sites to see what effect it had on their readiness. Absolutely horrifying

    1. Ack! I'll keep that in mind if I find my regular reading insufficiently harrowing. :-/