Inventing Los Alamos; The Growth of an Atomic Community

Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. First Printing [Stated]. Hardcover. x, [2], 288, [4] pages. List of Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Contents include Introduction; Rendezvous at Site Y: The Instant City; Fishing in the Desert with Fat Man: Civic Tension, Atomic Explosion; Postwar Los Alamos: Exodus, New Growth, and Invisible Danger; Los Alamos Transformed: Federal Largesse and Red Challenge; A Cold War Community Up in Arms: Competition and Conformity; Toward Normalizing Los Alamos: Cracking the Gates; and Atomic City on a Hill: Legacy and Continuing Research. A narrative history focuses on how the inhabitants of Los Alamos, New Mexico, confronted both the rush to create an atomic bomb and the intensity of the subsequent Cold War era, in a study of a community's first fifteen years as home to a national laboratory. It explores the momentous events that created the town, the lives of the families who lived there, and the impact this small community had on the creation and development of the Atomic Age. Jon Hunner was a Professor of History at New Mexico State University. Dr. Hunner taught at New Mexico State University from 1995 to 2018. He specialized in 20th century U.S. history and Public History. He received his Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico, and is the author of Inventing Los Alamos, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War and the Atomic West, and other works. He previously served as director of the New Mexico History Museum. Extracts from a published review by John Norris of the National Resources Defense Council: The opening chapter recounts the story of how Los Alamos became the central scientific laboratory of the Manhattan Project. Hunner sets the scene describing the evolving community amidst the spectacular landscape of northern New Mexico. Hunner’s contribution to the extensive literature about this unique place is to examine Los Alamos in broader terms than just the scientific ones that are at the center of most accounts. During the war years life was difficult. With the end of the war Los Alamos changed dramatically. While staff felt jubilation and pride that the bomb had helped end a horrible war, their feelings were mixed with concern about what sort of world the country was about to enter. Hunner describes a tension that serves as his main theme. On the one hand is Los Alamos’s struggle to become a normal community occupied by American families who, like their counterparts elsewhere, were searching for security and normalcy in an uncertain world. He describes how a school system was established, how they entertained themselves, practiced their religions, built suitable housing, and pursued the many other activities that constitute normal town life. Juxtaposed against this was the reality that Los Alamos was a unique and privileged enclave, funded by the federal government to fight the Cold War and build bombs that could, if ever used, end civilization, a haunting psychological weight for its inhabitants. Hunner argues that somewhat unavoidably Los Alamos became the model community for the new atomic age. In the aftermath of the first Soviet atomic explosion in August 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War the following year, Los Alamos’s funding and population grew significantly as Washington decided to develop the hydrogen bomb and mass-produce nuclear weapons of every sort. Not everything was rosy on the mesa though. Hunner describes some of the dysfunctional elements that affected Los Alamos, such as extramarital affairs and alcoholism, the latter a commonplace among the bored housewives living in an isolated community in the early 1950s. Hunner also discusses topics such as class differences and ethnic diversity and the tensions they elicited. When the idea of opening the town was raised, an overwhelming majority wanted to keep the fences up in order to preserve the sense of safety and security. But the fences could not keep the world out. Hunner treats the impact the 1954 J. Robert Oppenheimer security affair had on Los Alamos as a case in point. Finally in 1957 the fences and guardhouses surrounding the residential areas did come down. Hunner includes three dozen photographs, two maps, 40 pages of notes, and a bibliography that testify to a solidly researched book. Hunner has chosen an interesting angle to view Los Alamos and has brought into focus some of the complexities and consequences of living with the bomb at the place where it was born. Condition: Very good / Very good.

Keywords: Los Alamos, Manhattan Project, Atomic Bomb, Scientific Laboratory, Cold War, Nuclear Weapons, Site Y, Robert Oppenheimer, Leslie Groves, Closed City, Atomic Energy, Norris Bradbury, Civil Defense, Secrecy, Security, Radiation

ISBN: 0806136340

[Book #84134]

Price: $75.00