8 Books to Discover the Manhattan Project’s Secrets

Categories: Articles

Nearly 75 years after the end of World War II, Senior Curator Martin Moeller dug through the archives to present a declassified picture of the three cities at the core of the Manhattan Project. While these “secret cities” were behind building the first atomic bomb, officially they did not exist during the war. The upcoming exhibition Secret Cities: The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project looks at the design and development required to build cities with a secret mission.

We asked Moeller to recommend books for anyone curious about the Manhattan Project. He provided some of his top picks and thoughts on each book for your reading enjoyment.

Secret Cities Book Club

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

Martin Moeller: Kiernan’s best-selling book inspired renewed interest in the Manhattan Project and the varied roles of American women during World War II. It complements the more well-known stories of the famous scientists and military officials associated with the project.

City Behind a Fence: Oak Ridge, Tennessee 1942-1946
Charles O. Jackson and Charles W. Johnson

MM: This book by two professors at the University of Tennessee provides an in-depth look at daily life in Oak Ridge during the war, based on oral interviews, published documents, and previously classified material.

Longing for the Bomb: Oak Ridge and Atomic Nostalgia
By Lindsey A. Freeman

MM: Freeman’s book examines the emergence of the Atomic Age, with its odd mixture of futuristic fantasy and existential angst. It extends the narrative of wartime Oak Ridge into the Cold War and beyond, revealing some of the curious ambiguities that characterize contemporary scientific and political culture.

The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of its Creators, Eyewitnesses, and Historians
By Cynthia C. Kelly

MM: The editor of this book is head of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Age. This compendium includes writings by and about many of the key figures responsible for the project.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb
By Richard  Rhodes

MM: This is the seminal overview of the development and use of the atomic bomb. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1988, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age 
By Dan Zak

MM: Zak’s examination of “America’s love-hate relationship to the bomb” was inspired in part by the trio of peace activists who easily penetrated the security perimeter of Oak Ridge’s Y-12 complex in 2012, starkly exposing the risks that always attend the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

Architecture in Uniform: Designing and Building for the Second World War 
By Jean-Louis Cohen

MM: This catalogue from a 2011 exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture explores the legacy of military architecture and engineering during World War II.

World War II and The American Dream: How Wartime Building Changed a Nation
By Donald Albrecht

MM: In 1995, the National Building Museum presented an exhibition revealing the impact of wartime building innovations on postwar American life. This catalogue includes passages touching on the cities built for the Manhattan Project.