I have reviewed books about the Manhattan project before, one a memoir by Richard Feyman and the other a very interesting history of the Oak Ridge facility where uranium was enriched for the project. The Wives of Los Alamos takes the interesting perspective of the wives of the (almost all male) scientists, who were gathered in Los Alamos, were told almost nothing about the project but whose lives were utterly transformed, for years, by their having to uproot their children to a remote location while not being able to share much of their experiences with their families.
Unfortunately, the author chose to present the history neither as a straight non-fiction book or as a traditional novel, but as a very awkward first person plural narrative that tries to present a blended record of the different experiences. How I wish she would instead have focused on one woman’s life, or perhaps a group of friends’! Nevertheless I found it quite fascinating to peer into the flimsy houses, the petty jealousies for the families with a bathtub, the incessant gossip about the project, the inventive justifications to visit their parents. It’s also a peek into a past in which highly educated women retreated into the home after marriage and perhaps one of the reasons why they held such mean-spirited suspicion for the very few women scientists working on the project.