Check It Out Category: Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

Title:The Girls of Atomic City
Author: Denise Kiernan
Page Count: 309 pages
Genre: World War II Nonfiction, History
Tone: Informative, Atmospheric

Summary:
The story of several women who worked in various positions at the Clinton Engineering Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II to secretly make fuel for the atomic bomb.

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Chapter one opens with women riding on a “train to nowhere”. What were some of the things made these women open to doing this? How hard was it on people to leave? Was it harder for some than others? What about those who had families?

2. How did secrecy affect the community at Oak Ridge?

3. How did privacy affect the community at Oak Ridge? How did the residents feel about the fact that anyone could be watching them or listening to them at any time? Was this different than the broader United States at that time?

4. How did the earlier residents of this area feel about their land being taken from them to use for this project (“the taking.”) How did this follow some of the other “land taking” they’d experienced, like the Great Smoky National Park and the Norris Dam? Did patriotism and the war effort affect this? If so, in what ways?

5. How were African Americans treated differently than the white Americans in Oak Ridge? How do you feel about this? (Hutment: 16’x16’ plywood box with a door and a shutter, heated by a potbellied stove, housing 4 women, for $6.50/person/month with no spouses. Whites had dorms for 2 people at $10/person/month. Also trailers, houses, etc where couples and families could live.) What other ways were African Americans discriminated against? Did they sacrifice more?

6. This was an untold story of WWII that the author has brought to light. The part women have played in history has often been overlooked. Why are these important to tell even years later? Have you read other books or seen movies that have told their stories? (Hidden Figures) Why do you think the book is called “The Girls of Atomic City” not women?

7. Before reading this book had you heard of some of the notable female scientists who worked with atomic physics? Have their contributions been given the same weight that males in that discipline have?

8. Lise Meitner played a large part in discovering atomic fission, but when she realized the application of this discovery she decided not to join the Manhattan Project? How do you feel about that?

9. Read these quotes from Albert Einstein and discuss how you feel about them?

He wrote to physicist Niels Bohr in December 1944, “when the war is over, then there will be in all countries a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological means which will lead inevitably to preventative wars and to destruction even more terrible than the present destruction of life.”
Einstein withheld public comment on the atomic bombing of Japan until a year afterward. A short article on the front page of the New York Times contained his view: “Prof. Albert Einstein… said that he was sure that President Roosevelt would have forbidden the atomic bombing of Hiroshima had he been alive and that it was probably carried out to end the Pacific war before Russia could participate.” (“Einstein Deplores Use of Atom Bomb”, New York Times, 8/19/46, pg. 1). Einstein later wrote, “I have always condemned the use of the atomic bomb against Japan.”
In November 1954, five months before his death, Einstein summarized his feelings about his role in the creation of the atomic bomb: “I made one great mistake in my life… when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them.” (http://www.doug-long.com/einstein.htm)

10. Do you think it was acceptable to hire people to work on this project without them knowing what it was that they were helping to make? Who do you think risked exposure to radiation? Any people stand out? (Those who carried the canisters to Los Alamos. Ebb Cade’s experimentation.) How did the statement, everything’s going in, nothings coming out play into this?

11. Talk about the “ordinary” people who worked on the bomb. Who stood out to you and why? What were their jobs? Who did you empathize with? Who were the “extraordinary” people involved in the project? What were their jobs? Did you feel you got to know them?

12. Talk about the physical characteristics of Oak Ridge? Why was it selected for Site X? How did the environmental conditions affect the residents of the town?

13. How did people try to bring a sense of normalcy to the structured and secretive life at Oak Ridge? Why do you think some were successful in adapting to Oak Ridge while others were not?

14. Was Kiernan successful in transporting you to the world of World War II? Why or why not? What things gave you that sense of time or the era? How did you feel about the way in which the book moved from the stories of the “ordinary people” to the stories about the scientists, generals and politicians involved in the highest level of the project?

15. How much did you know about The Manhattan Project before reading this book? Did you learn anything interesting about it you didn’t know before. (One example for me is just this past summer I saw the headquarters of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, and I knew it was a private, all-male club, but I didn’t know it was involved with the Manhattan Project.)

16. How did WWI and WWII differ from previous wars and subsequent wars the US has been involved in? Are wars unifying or divisive for a country?

17. What did most Americans at that time feel about the war and the use of the atomic bombs? Has our thinking about this changed with time? Why or why not? What have been the ramifications of the atomic bomb and atomic energy, both positive and negative? Let’s talk about how the bombs were used. How were the targets chosen? What were the outcomes? How did the US try to lessen casualties? Hiroshima – August 6, 140,000 killed. Three days later Nagasaki – 40,000 killed. Five days later Japan surrendered.

18. There was a real sense that Americans trusted their government and military leaders and would follow them in this period of time. How is our world different today? Is something this huge, involving so many people, over so long a period of time, with such secrecy possible today? Is that a negative or a positive?

19. How many of you liked this book? How many disliked it? Reasons for or against? Would you have liked this better as a movie?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

The Girls of Atomic City website
PBS feature “Women on a Top- Secret Mission in ‘Atomic City'”
Simon and Schuster Discussion Questions
The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History from the U.S. Department of Energy

READALIKES:

Our Mothers’ War
by Emily Yellin

Rise of the Rocket Girls
by Nathalia Holt

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly

Nonfiction: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Picture of Summer Reading House headerThere are 3 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

We Should All Be Feminists book cover

We Should All Be Feminists is not what you might think. This is no academic or political diatribe. It is declarative, yes, but it is also gentle. Adapted from her powerful TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls out the dated understanding of the word feminist and uses personal stories to illustrate what feminism both is and should be in the 21st century. She seeks to open the discussion so that we listen to one another and then take steps to bring about positive change. As you might expect from the craft of a gifted novelist, these mere 52 pages are beautifully articulated and designed to meet the reader wherever he or she may be.

Read this for Summer Reading!

For the DIY Designers…
This book may be counted as a nonfiction read, one everyone is talking about, a book with a person of color as author, or a book under 150 pages.

For the Master Class Designers…
This may count as a book with a person of color as author or as a book highlighted on the MPPL website.

Nonfiction: All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey

Picture of Summer Reading House headerThere are 13 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

All the Lives I Want book cover

Are you a Winona or a Gwyneth? How many times have you seen Mary Kate Olsen without Ashley Olsen? What do these questions mean and why does that matter? In All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers, Alana Massey uses her obsession with famous figures to examine womanhood, society, and celebrity culture in general. With chapter subtitles like, “On Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and the Art of Manufactured Beef,” and “A Case for the Liberation of Scarlett Johansson from Lost in Translation,” Massey covers a lot of ground and digs deep while still maintaining a light touch. This collection is one pop culture aficionados will not want to miss!

 Read this for Summer Reading.

For the DIY Designers…
This book may be counted as a nonfiction book.

For the Master Class Designers…
This may count as a book highlighted on the MPPL website and

Graphic Novel: Spotlight on Pioneers

Picture of Summer Reading House headerThere are 19 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

Summer gives us a chance to branch out in new directions or more fully immerse ourselves in areas of interest. Here are three Adult graphic novels that will introduce you to some forward thinkers who were pioneers in their respective fields.

Jim Ottaviani’s Dignifying Science, explores the lives of six women whose mark on science is indelible. Included in this book are Hedy Lamarr, an actress and inventor who was a force behind the concept of the modern-day Bluetooth system, Lise Meitner, a physicist who was among a small team of scientists who discovered nuclear fission, and the Nobel Prize-winning cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock.

 

 

 

 

Henry David Thoreau was a philosopher, writer, naturalist and an early promoter of the idea of civil disobedience. In his beautifully-drawn accompaniment to Thoreau’s writings, John Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden brings to life this solemn and thoughtful resister.

 

 

 

 

The graphic biography of Margaret Sanger, Woman Rebel by Peter Bagge, reveals the compelling background behind her activism, rooted in the difficult and painful times of her childhood growing up at the turn of the 20th century. This was a time in U.S. history which offered few opportunities to women in almost any area of their lives, and Margaret saw firsthand the deep suffering this caused her mother and eventually, herself. Armed with the passionate belief that women should be able to make their own choices regarding their lives, Margaret became one of the earliest and fiercest voices for women’s rights.

 

 

Read this for Summer Reading!

For the DIY Designers…
These books may be counted as nonfiction graphic novels, or a book from a genre you haven’t tried before.

For the Master Class Designers…
This may count as a book highlighted on the MPPL website.

 

Nonfiction: American Eclipse by David Baron

Picture of Summer Reading House headerThere are 20 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

American Eclipse book cover

With the anticipated solar eclipse in August, now might be the perfect time to read what happened around a similar event in 1878. David Baron’s fascinating new history, American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World, delves into the facts to unearth an entertaining narrative with lots of tension and excitement.

Baron directs our attention to three notable observers of that phenomenon: Vassar astronomer Maria Mitchell, striving to prove women’s place in the sciences, James Craig Watson, a somewhat untrustworthy planet hunter, and aspiring inventor Thomas Edison. Their stories weave against the backdrop of the Wild West to illuminate the drama that led to America’s becoming a mover and shaker in the global scientific community and even to the creation of the first national weather service. If only our textbooks were this much fun…

Read this for Summer Reading!

For the DIY Designers…
This book is nonfiction and may count in that category.

For the Master Class Designers…
This may count as a book highlighted on the MPPL website.

Nonfiction: The Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

50 Days of Summer Reading BannerThere are 37 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

Disappearing Spoon book cover

Fun fact: a spoon made of gallium, a metal with a low melting point, will come undone in something as mild as a cup of tea. Though that trivia may be the anecdotal inspiration for the title The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table, it’s no spoiler. Author Sam Kean presents witty tidbits from history all inspired from the mapping of elements which make up the periodic table – as well as those yet to be discovered. Written in a light, readable style, but filled with authoritative information probably not included in your science texts, this book (or audiobook) will appeal equally to those with only a passing interest as well as to more dedicated history buffs or to serious science fanatics. Prepare to have your brain tickled with a unique combination of fun and educational.

Read this for Summer Reading!

For the DIY Designers…
This book may count as your nonfiction read or as a book of (true) stories.

For the Master Class Designers…
This may count as a challenged (controversial) book, a book of true stories, or as a book highlighted on the MPPL website.

Nonfiction: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

50 Days of Summer Reading Banner

There are 48 more days until the end of Summer Reading! Every day during our countdown we will be featuring slices of library life, books, and topics designed to help you out as you work through 2017 Summer Reading at Mount Prospect. Read more about how you can join in on this celebration of reading and enter to win prizes!

It seems appropriate to highlight Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime during the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to ban laws prohibiting interracial marriage. While that ruling certainly did not completely resolve all our troubles, South Africa wouldn’t even begin to enact their legal resolution to end racial discrimination in relationships until 1991, with the end of apartheid. Thus it is that 33 year old Trevor Noah can tell his story of growing up under the cruel, state-mandated discrimination that truly made his birth, the son of a black mother and white father, illegal. Noah is an able comedian, and there are many parts of this story that will have you laughing out loud. But the painful, piercing evil of segregation that permeates the book is never far from the humor. This too is a work of love, as Noah pays tribute to his incredibly strong and loving mother, whose intentionally strict parenting style was cultivated to ensure he knew he was different, special, and destined for something beyond their small home.

Read this for summer reading!

For the DIY Designers…
This could count as a book that everyone’s talking about or a nonfiction book.

For the Master Class Designers…
This could count as a book with a person of color as the main character and as a book highlighted on the MPPL website.

Staff Pick- Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb

Picture of LarryAndy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities is an account of how the possible mental illness of high-profile historical figures may have affected their lives and had an impact on their fame and success. The lives of Andy Warhol, Princess Diana, Abraham Lincoln, Betty Ford and others are reviewed from a psychological perspective revealing how their maladies may have impacted their accomplishments. With the help of experts, biographers, and historical records, Claudia Kalb has written an intriguing narrative that mixes biography and psychology, providing a fascinating perspective on creativity and the human condition.

 

Staff Pick- The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O’Reilly

Carla from Admin suggests The Barn at the End of The World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O’Reilly

The Barn at the End of the World book coverThe Barn at the End of The World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd, by Mary Rose O’Reilly, is a rich narrative of the author’s midlife journey into sheep barns and spirituality.

In 98 short vignettes, O’Reilly lets us into her life. She gives us a look at raising sheep in Minnesota and a glimpse of monastery life at Plum Village in France. We are introduced to some of her teachers: a young barn worker who says “Never turn your back on a buck ram” and a spiritual director who shares “It’s nice to be calm, but the real purpose of meditation if to obtain wisdom”.

Quotes from poets find their way into the book.  We hear from Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman and others. We learn that the author relishes the Augustinian phrase “the tranquility of order”. The Barn at the End of the World is highly recommended as an oasis for busy lives.

For more spiritual memoirs, try…

Traveling Mercies book coverTraveling Mercies
by Anne Lamott
Combining elements of spiritual study and memoir, Anne Lamott describes her odyssey of faith, drawing on her own sometimes troubled past to explore the many ways in which faith sustains and guides one’s daily life.

by Radhanath Swami
Following Richard Slavin from the suburbs of Chicago to the caves of the Himalayas as he transforms from young seeker to renowned spiritual guide, The Journey Home is a glimpse into the heart of mystic traditions.

 

The Sound of Gravel book coverThe Sound of Gravel
by Ruth Wariner

An account of the author’s coming-of-age in a polygamist Mormon Doomsday cult describes her childhood as one of her father’s more than 40 welfare-dependent children, the extreme religious beliefs that haunted her daily life and her escape in the aftermath of a devastating tragedy.
Seeking Englightment Hat by Hat book coverSeeking Enlightenment– Hat by Hat: A Skeptic’s Path to Religion
by Nevada Barr
Nevada Barr recounts her spiritual quest for meaning in her life, describing her experiences as an actor, writer, and adventure-seeker, and sharing her transition from atheism toward a sense of being part of something greater than herself.
Autobiography of a Yogi
by Paramahansa Yogananda
An autobiographical account of an early nineteenth-century yogi as he reaches self-realization, identification with his larger self, mankind, and union with his God.