Atomic City

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Because I grew up during WWII, I read books about that terrible time. One that I just completed is titled “The Girls Of Atomic City.” Years ago when I traveled the country with the family I studied maps of the USA. Yes maps, that was a time before computers and GPS were invented. One area that always intrigued me was Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This small town was always connected to the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). The TVA was one of President Roosevelt’s make work projects during the Great Depression. Basically he brought electricity to the rural South by damming rivers, and building power plants. Oak Ridge was just a ridge named for its oak trees. There was no town. After the war started Roosevelt initiated the Manhattan Project. This was the most secret effort ever worked on by the USA. The Manhattan Project involved several different places; one in Chicago, another in Las Alamos, New Mexico, and one in Tennessee called the Clinton Engineering Works. The project was the most closely guarded of any ever worked on involving hundreds of thousands of people across the country, except for a few traitors who regularly fed information to the Russians.

The secret has been public information for many years now, and the Manhattan Project was a success. We developed the atomic bomb, and used it to end WWII. There are people who argue that the USA was wrong to kill so many civilians, but to do other wise would have meant seeing millions of military people slaughtered on both sides. Are they not also civilians?

The atomic bomb needed fuel to make it work. The fuel was Uranium 238, and Uranium 235. In order to get the Uranium to work it had to be concentrated and close to pure. The effort to process Uranium ore into bomb grade material is what spawned the Oak Ridge section of the project. The US Government spent 2 billion dollars (1943-45 money) to make it happen. To keep the secret, no one who worked at Oak Ridge knew what any one else who worked there did. Workers had only the information they needed to perform their specific jobs.

Most of the men at the time were drafted to fight the war in Europe and the Pacific. This meant the job force was mostly women, young high school graduated women. Many of these girls had brothers fighting in the war, and many of the brothers were already killed or wounded in action. The girls never knew what was going on at the plant, but they did know they were working for the government and believed they were working to help end the war.

As I read this story and marveled at the system the Army invented to keep the project secret, I was reminded of the company that I worked for. The owner, whom I will refer to as JEC, used this system to guard his manufacturing process from winding up in the hands of his competitors. Departments were closed off from each other, and employees were given badges that would open the doors. That is, if they were authorized to enter the area. As a new engineer, I sought entry into the production room to watch a specific machine work. It was my project to improve the machine. Within seconds of arriving the supervisor of the department was at my side asking questions about my need for information. I received a very stern rebuke about the need to call the department head in advance of a visit to his area. Our security system was so strict, I often wondered who invented it. Now I know. I am positive that JEC had worked as an engineer on some aspect of the Manhattan Project. JEC never lost his trade secrets to a leak because no one employee ever had the whole picture of the processes.

At its peak, Oak Ridge had seventy-five thousand people working at the site. Imagine the effort it took to build plants, to install custom machinery, hire and house staff. The site they picked was in the middle of nowhere south of Knoxville, Tennessee. Roads were nonexistent. Roads inside the fence that surrounded the project were mud. Buildings to house employees were many different kinds: some were crude dormitories, some mobile trailers, some pre-fab apartments. They built cafeterias to feed the workers who worked around the clock. They had a bus system that rivaled those of large cities. They had shopping centers where employees could buy necessities. A single building provided space for worship of many different faiths. In other words, they had to build a city as well as a factory to make the product.

I found this book fascinating and could not stop reading until I finished. Oak Ridge the city that did not exist finally became a city after the war.

Denise Kiernan did a wonderful job of reporting a piece of history that has been long neglected while integrating the personal stories of several  women who worked there, and who were still living at the time she wrote the book.

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Immigration By Another Route

It’s been quite a while since I have done a review on a bike book. A while ago, Michelle and I were walking around Third place Books in Lake Forest park. I picked it up to take a look and the subtitle grabbed me: The Untold Story of Seven Thousand Bicycles and the Rise of […]

via Book Review: The Coyote’s Bicycle by Kimball Taylor — 25,000 Miles of Experiences, Adventures and Thoughts

Return To Space

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There is a huge lapse in time since my last book report. Not because I didn’t read any books, nor because I didn’t find any of them worth reviewing, but because I had no desire to write articles for my blog. Call it blog overload or blog-o-phobia whatever, it is a loss in interest in the stuff of life. One expert has told me it is a sign of depression. Who me? No!

On Ash Wednesday I began a walking routine which I have maintained for ten days straight. The exercise gurus will tell me that is wrong. I should have had a rest day in there. My idea is that if I don’t establish a habit I’d never make it past the first rest day. Tomorrow will tell the story. The point of this lame tale is that ever since I began walking my spirits have risen, my energy level is higher, my interests are returning, and I feel better.

The book I am reviewing is titled How To Make A Spaceship by Julian Guthrie. The story is true and has an interesting flow. Julian chronicles the lives of several men from the time they were young, very young in most cases, until they achieve goals set early in life. If there is one word to describe these men it is “passion.” None of them let go of the dream, and directed their lives in ways that would give them the tools they needed to reach success.

Here is a short list of the men involved, Peter Diamandis is the central character. Most people have never heard of him unless they are space nuts. In Peter’s course to reach space he runs into men like Burt Rutan a builder of airplanes and a man who flew his design around the world on a single tank of gas. Another is Erik Lindbergh grandson of Charles Lindbergh the first man to solo fly across the Atlantic ocean non-stop from Long Island, New York to Paris. Erik attributes his recovery from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis to inspiration acquired from Diamandis’s enthusiasm to reach space. Paul Allen co-founder of Microsoft, Elon Musk inventor of PayPal, Richard Branson who earned a fortune off Virgin Records and today heads over four hundred company’s under the Virgin Group. Marion Blakey second lady administrator of the FAA, and a gaggle of others who worked to launch the first citizen initiated sub-orbital flight into space.

Authoress Julian did an amazing job of telling a highly charged story of a technical nature into a fascinating spell binding read. This is one book I did not put down, and when I did, I could not wait to start it again. If you are into stories about flight, space, or passionately driven people this is one for you.

Walk Away

I just added another book read to my list. Without a doubt this was the most painful book I ever forced myself to read. The cover picture of a couple of kids on a bike sucked me into it. I am a sucker for bikes and bike riding. The author Viet Thanh Nguyen is a refugee from the Viet Nam War, or as he referred to it The American Wa.. He speaks eloquent english and writes the same. I found myself opening the dictionary to understand some of his word selections. The last word I had to look up is solipsism. I never heard it or saw it used before. Solipsism is a view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

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The last time I heard a speaker talk to me this way was in college when I took metaphysics. I didn’t understand it then nor did I understand much of what this guy was telling me. I was sooo tempted to return the book without finishing it. I kept hoping the next chapter would be the one that made sense, it did not happen. I finally understood the Epilogue because it he wrote it as a narrative about his life.

If you are into philosophy you will enjoy this book. If you like a regular everyday story like I do you will walk away from it.

All through the read I kept remembering the professor I had at Saint Joseph’s College who taught metaphysics. I kept telling myself that guys like Viet Than Nguyen are teaching at our colleges(he is Associate Professor of English and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California) and warping the minds of our youth. None of what he wrote made sense and I wondered how he ever found a publisher to take this book on, then I saw it was the Harvard University Press.  I have too little time left on this good earth to waste my minutes with unsatisfying work such as this. I have nobody to blame but myself.

 

Senior Musing

About a year ago a friend recommended a book whose title I jotted into my phone. My short term memory is waning and if I don’t write something down it gets forgotten immediately. Last week I finished a book titled The Jolly Roger Social Club, and immediately began searching for my next read. The usual trip to the library failed to produce a current title that struck my fancy so I opened my notebook on the i-phone. I found a title called Recessional recommended by my friend Tom an avid reader. The author,  James Michener is one of my favorites.

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The story revolves around a Senior living complex in Florida, and the characters are all my age. The complex has three levels. The first is apartments for totally independent residents. The second is for people who need some form of assistance with care, and the third is long-term care. Thankfully the story begins with characters that are full of life and amazingly active. I learned a new word, tertulia meaning a group of people gathered to discuss the arts, or any other current topic of interest.

One of the benefits of this type of living is that the residents can prepare their own meals in their apartment or order from the kitchen to eat in, or they can assemble in the dining room to eat any or all three daily meals. A group of four men eat at the only round table standing in a corner of the room. Comprised of a Senator, Ambassador, Editor, and a business President. They were considered the brains of the home. I took a liking to this group because it resembles the group I belong to made up of widowers who meet regularly to discuss anything and everything. These characters took their friendship one step further by convincing the management to allow them a workshop in which the planned to build an airplane. That is my kind of retirement living.

Michener always teaches the reader something. In this story he covered retirement village living and management, AIDS treatment, living wills, and hospice care. It didn’t surprise me that he wrote the book just three years before he died at age ninety. He was most likely one of the characters in the story. Michener began writing when he was forty years old and his very first book Tales of the South Pacific won a Pulitzer Prize. Over the next fifty years he wrote forty-one books. Most of them are epic one thousand page stories. The man never let up either he was writing or researching. His most popular book is Hawaii with 45 editions. Can you imagine running out of a title and having to print more forty-five times, I can’t.

This story was a can’t put it down read, but because it was about my life, or rather my future life, it saddened me whenever one of the characters died. Most died of natural causes, but one man committed suicide after his wife died so he could be with her. The bulk of the characters and the plots they appeared in were for the most part uplifting, and the book is well worth the time to absorb, and there is much food for discussion in a tertulia setting.

Re-reading a Classic

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A couple of weeks ago Peg and I watched the movie South Pacific. I have seen it four times since it was made, and I love it more each time. I love it so much I decided to re-read the book it is based on “The Tales Of the South Pacific” by James Michener. I often tell this story about how I learned about Michener. A Polish engineer from work told me he had just read a great book about the history of his country. Since my wife was of Polish descent I borrowed the book. Most James Michener books are a thousand pages and Poland was a long thick thousand page book. I began the read on a holiday weekend and was mesmerized. I could not put it down, it had my interest. At the five hundred page mark I set the book down on the end table next to my chair, and there it sat for the next twelve months. By that time I was concerned that I had the book for a year and I should return it, so I picked it up again. The same thing, I read non-stop to the end. I enjoyed the book that much. I learned of other Michener narratives and set a goal to read all of them. After the third one, I asked myself where did this guy begin, what was his first book? I found a list of his published books and learned that Tales of the South Pacific was his first and he won a Pulitzer prize for that work.

I borrowed the book from the library and was surprised to see that is was of normal length. It was obvious to me why he won the prize. Published in l947, it was fresh off WWII, and it is a story about his personal experience in the Pacific. After reading it I non-stop I was moved emotionally. Many years later when I watched the movie of the broadway musical South Pacific it seemed very familiar to me. The play is based on the book.

I haven’t finished re-reading yet, but I am already emotionally involved. Hearing the stories of the hardships these men endured while protecting our country has evoked some memories I would rather forget. I was nine years old when this story published, and I lived the war from FDR’s declaration until the boys came home. I still remember hearing stories my Mom told about the sons of friends who returned and were all screwed up. They left for war as teenagers but returned as hardened men who were quite different.

Michener did an outstanding job of telling a series of totally independent short stories that were filled with characters in a a way as to tell a much bigger story.  I still give this book four stars, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

There Goes the Neighborhood

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It has been several months since I read a book. The men’s bookclub selection this month was a novel titled “The Gold Coast” by Nelson DeMille. At first I thought this a five hundred page story, it will take me a month to finish. Well, it took one week. This is the kind of story that can’t be put down. I found myself actually shutting off the TV in favor of becoming engrossed. I always set a bed time, but on several evenings I stayed up way past the scheduled time. This is not a new book(1990), but I had never heard of it before. The setting is Long Island, New York in a place where the really, really rich lived and played called the Gold Coast. It is often compared to the Greta Gatsby era when the Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, Astors, Rockerfellers, and J.P. Morgan lived opulent lives which cannot be duplicated except by maybe some Saudi Princes.

The story of how these people lived in their fifty room mansions on their two hundred acre estates fascinated me. Even the gate houses and guest houses were mansions. Today, if I pass by a  very pricey sub-division and see a gate house it is usually the size of a phone booth and not a mansion. The driveways from the gate house to the mansion were usually  tree lined winding country lanes that took a few minutes to drive.

I found DeMille’s characters depicting the stodgy, snooty, Gatsby era citizens very believable and real. Not that I have a lot of experience with these sorts of characters, but I fraternized enough with the upper echelons of some huge  Corporations to be able to know who was real and who was not. Having never had more money than I needed to survive I did find it hard to imagine people so wealthy that they could afford to keep not one but several houses of this magnitude.

Author DeMille cleverly crafted a plot that depicts a neighborhood that is slowly evolving into something less than it once was. Developers are the only ones who can afford to buy the large tracts and often a single estate is split into many smaller ten acre lots. In this story one of the estates is spared by a new guy moving in. As we often say when that happens, “there goes the neighborhood.” In this story, the guy who spoils the neighborhood is a Mafia don from New York who is known to everyone in the Gold Coast via newspaper accounts of  his purported crimes.

If you like a good story this is one I recommend. This story would make a really good movie.

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