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Nonfiction November: Books on Science and Community

Nonfiction November 2015Woo hoo! Welcome to the second week of Nonfiction November. Our host this week is Leslie (Regular Rumination) and our topic is book pairings:

Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be an “if you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

As I mentioned in my Currently post on Sunday, my friend Chrissy Kolaya’s first novel, Charmed Particles, comes out this week from Dzanc Books. The book is set in a small town in rural Illinois that is home to both a living history museum and laboratory studying high-energy particle physics. When the town becomes a finalist to host a new superconducting supercollider, tensions between long-time community members and scientists at the lab threaten to split the town.

The conflict between science and community isn’t a new one. Communities often feel threatened when new facilities or experiments are set to happen in their backyard, and scientists are often terrible at explaining the benefits of their experimental research. With that in mind, here are three great true stories about the conflict between science and community.

full body burdenFull Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

Kristen Iversen grew up in a small subdivision outside of Denver, downwind from a nuclear weapons facility that produced plutonium bomb components, Rocky Flats. No one in the community knew what happened at the factory and, frankly, no one thought about it much because they had more pressing concerns. As Iversen grew older, her perspective on the plant changed, shifting from blissful ignorance to skepticism to frustration to anger. Full Body Burden is her account of life outside Rocky Flats that shows the true cost of government neglect and corporate corruption. I highly recommend this one.

the girls of atomic city by denise kiernan coverThe Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

By the time World War II ended, more than 75,000 people lived and worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a hastily built town with the sole purpose of supporting the country’s atomic bomb program. Like many World War II industries, the factory and supporting businesses were staffed primarily by women. In The Girls of Atomic City, Kiernan gives a full account of what a strange experience it was to live in this particular place. She is particularly great at bringing out the personalities of the nine women she focused on for the story, showing how they joined “The Project” and what their involvement with such a secretive program actually meant.

leaving orbit by margaret lazarus deanLeaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean

Margaret Lazarus Dean is a bit of a space fangirl, someone fascinated by space flight and what it takes to make each launch happen. Leaving Orbit is a chronicle of the last three flight in the American shuttle program and a history of American spaceflight. The conflict in Leaving Orbit isn’t quite as obvious as it is in the other two books I’ve mentioned. Instead, the book is more about how to justify the enormous costs of space exploration – discovery for the sake of discovery – in a time when there is pressure to cut costs and focus on problems closer to home. The book is a really great elegy and celebration of the American shuttle program that asks good questions about where we go next.

Programming Notes

  • This week’s host is Leslie (Regular Rumination), so make sure to visit her blog to link up your post for the week.
  • If you’re talking about Nonfiction November on Twitter, please use the hashtag #nonficnov for your posts so we can find them. The hashtag seems a little crowded this year, but we’ll just make it work.
  • Our topic next week is Nontraditional Nonfiction hosted by Rebecca (I’m Lost in Books).
{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Shannon @ River City Reading November 10, 2015, 6:41 am

    This is a great reminder that I have to read The Girls of Atomic City! I bought it so long ago and it sounds really great.

  • Sarah's Book Shelves November 10, 2015, 6:56 am

    Full Body Burden sounds so interesting! And – The Girls of Atomic City sounds like the nonfiction version of an historical fiction novel I’ve had on my TBR forever, The Wives of Los Alamos.

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:37 pm

      Yes, they do sound really similar. I loved that The Girls of Atomic City focused a lot on women who actually worked at the facility, so maybe it’d be a good companion — women’s roles in different spheres of the projects.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) November 10, 2015, 8:42 am

    I loved The Girls of Atomic City so will have to check out Full Body Burden.

  • Amanda November 10, 2015, 12:08 pm

    I’m echoing nearly everyone else! I so need to read Girls of Atomic City!

  • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review November 10, 2015, 12:08 pm

    Interesting topic — I want to branch out more in my nonfiction reading and this would be a great way to work in more science.

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:35 pm

      Definitely! All three of these have some science, but they’re more focused on history and social issues, so they’re a nice ease in to science writing.

  • JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing November 10, 2015, 12:29 pm

    Excellent choices. The Girls of Atomic City especially interests me.

  • Shaina November 10, 2015, 6:38 pm

    Ooh, I love the topic you selected! The Girls of Atomic City reminds me a lot of the novel The Wives of Los Alamos—have you read it? I’d be interested to see how the real and fictional accounts of the Manhattan Project differ!

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:34 pm

      I haven’t, but sounds really similar!

  • Kim November 11, 2015, 2:27 pm

    What a great topic…I am so enjoying the variety of these posts! And all of the books look so good!

  • Michelle November 12, 2015, 12:55 pm

    Full Body Burden sounds fascinating. The Girls of Atomic City has been on my want list for a while now.

    Your friend’s novel sounds eerily similar to the particle physics laboratory that resides one town over from where I grew up. In fact, there was a big to-do many years ago as they competed with CERN for one of the huge projects (it went to CERN). This book wouldn’t happen to take place in Batavia, IL, would it?

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:34 pm

      The town is fictionalized, and now I can’t remember the town it’s actually based on… it’s a suburb of Chicago, so maybe?

  • Tara @ Running 'N' Reading November 12, 2015, 1:28 pm

    WHY ARE THERE SO MANY GOOD BOOKS?!! 😉 Thanks so much for these recommendations, Kim; I’d love to read The Girls of Atomic City!!

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:33 pm

      That is a book nerd’s biggest problem, isn’t it? So many books, so little time.

  • Leslie November 12, 2015, 2:40 pm

    I read Full Body Burden on your recommendation and it was absolutely fantastic. Sounds like I must get to the rest of the books in this post! I’m so intrigued by Charmed Particles. My best friend worked at FermiLab and CERN and I got to visit both when she worked there… sounds like Charmed Particles might be a little bit inspired by FermiLab?

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:32 pm

      Yes, it is! I think you’d like the book a lot — definitely pick it up.

  • Laura @ The Buttontapper November 13, 2015, 3:21 pm

    I’m super interested in The Girls of Atomic City, particularly because my dad and several folks in my brother-in-law’s family work in Oak Ridge. They just call it “The Plant,” but I feel like there’s still an air of secrecy about the place, as well as the work that goes on there. Perhaps that will always be the case, simply because it’s a nuclear facility (even though today it’s more about nuclear power than nuclear bombs), but I’ve always been curious and have never really gotten any juicy details when I’ve asked about it.

    I’m also going to add Charmed Particles to my list, because it does sound like it was inspired by FermiLab — a strange place I visited on a few field trips as a kid growing up in a suburb of Chicago.

    Hooray for books that make science interesting!

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:32 pm

      Yes, parts are definitely based on the history of the FermiLab — I think you’d really enjoy the book if just for that aspect of it.

  • Lindsey November 14, 2015, 9:41 pm

    I’ve seen The Girls of Atomic City on a bunch of these lists. I guess I should read it asap!

  • iliana November 15, 2015, 6:29 pm

    I keep seeing Girls of Atomic City and that means I should admit to my TBR list. Great pairings. I’m looking forward to reading what everyone comes up for week three!

  • Isi November 18, 2015, 6:36 am

    I’m interested in the second book, but all of them sound great.
    Thanks for the recommendations!

    You made a good point about scientists being bad at explaining things to the non-scientific people 😉 And there’s also the fact that some people seem to be against improvements, just “because”.

    • Kim November 22, 2015, 2:30 pm

      Yes, also that. Misunderstanding and fears of change often go hand in hand in these situations.

  • Catherine November 25, 2015, 1:15 pm

    I loved Atomic City for exactly the reason you mentioned- she brings the women’s lives to life. I also had no idea that segregation was still enforced at the time so in that way it went beyond the solidarity of the war effort to show that the country still could not work together.

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