Half-Life of a Secret
Reckoning with a Hidden History
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 04/04/2023
In 1942, the US government began construction on a sixty-thousand-acre planned community named Oak Ridge in a rural area west of Knoxville, Tennessee. Unmarked on regional maps, Oak Ridge attracted more than seventy thousand people eager for high-paying wartime jobs. Among them was author Emily Strasser's grandfather George, a chemist. All employees—from scientists to secretaries, from military personnel to construction workers—were restricted by the tightest security. They were provided only the minimum information necessary to perform their jobs.
It wasn't until three years later that the citizens of Oak Ridge, and the rest of the world, learned the true purpose of the local industry. Oak Ridge was one of three secret cities constructed by the Manhattan Project for the express purpose of developing the first atomic bomb, which devastated Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
In Half-Life of a Secret: Reckoning with a Hidden History, Emily Strasser exposes the toxic legacy—political, environmental, and personal—that forever polluted her family, a community, the nation, and the world. Sifting through archives and family memories, and traveling to the deserts of Nevada and the living rooms of Hiroshima, she grapples with the far-reaching ramifications of her grandfather's work. She learns that during the three decades he spent building nuclear weapons, George suffered from increasingly debilitating mental illness. Returning to Oak Ridge, Strasser confronts the widespread contamination resulting from nuclear weapons production and the government's disregard for its impact on the environment and public health. With brilliant insight, she reveals the intersections between the culture of secrecy in her family and the institutionalized secrecy within the nuclear industry, which persists, with grave consequences, to this day.
3. Still Burning
7. Restricted Data
9. Practicing for Doomsday
15. Bombed without a Bang
Emily Strasser's book reads like several detective novels at once—except that the stories and secrets she unearths are her own family's, wrapped inside the larger secret of the development of the atomic bomb in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Beautifully detailed and impeccably researched, Strasser proceeds with unrelenting curiosity and patience, 'breathing in history' and exhaling poetry. Brava!~Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban
With a detective's focus, a philosopher's yearning, and a granddaughter's devotion, Strasser deftly fuses memoir with biography, lyricism with hard truths, and a hidden history with the forgetful present. This book is intimate and epic, harrowing and healing. It chases the phantoms of America, reveals the contamination of secrecy, and finds grace in a fraught inheritance: hers and the nation's.~Dan Zak, reporter for The Washington Post and author of Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age
The author knows Hiroshima, fears nuclear weapons, but loves her family. She knows her grandfather helped create the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs because of a photograph she saw in his house. The photo showed him, definitely him, observing what is undeniably a nuclear explosion. Her Herculean effort to learn more about this grandfather leads deep into family/Oak Ridge/atomic mystery. And along the way, the photo disappears. Half-life of a Secret presents a family, a city built to build the bomb, consequences, and the painful, time-transcending tentacles of war. The story is profound and cleverly crafted, but if you love to see perfect words in startling yet perfect places, you will love Emily Strasser by the end of page one.~Steve Leeper, Former Chairman of Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and cofounder of Peace Culture Village
A well-researched, poignant journey of discovery, Emily Strasser's Half-Life of a Secret interrogates and reveals the secrets, stories, and human and emotional cost of the Oak Ridge Nuclear Weapons facility. From Tennessee to Hiroshima, Strasser's weave of historical fact and the story of her grandfather brings a much-needed truth and relevancy to a difficult and ever-present topic: the devastating legacy of nuclear weapons and the choices we face to the present day. A must read.~Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats
Emily Strasser's Half-Life of a Secret offers not only a fierce literary vision, but also a profoundly ethical one. This work of investigation and self-investigation is the rare book that becomes more beautiful the more you read. Audacious in her insistence on care and her refusal of easy answers, Emily Strasser engages fearlessly with the biggest questions of living in a debut as urgent as it is timeless.~V.V. Ganeshananthan, author of Brotherless Night
Strasser's prose reaches beyond the straits normally reserved for academic presses in which this book was published, and her patience against some of the biggest ethical questions humans face is a thing of great strength. A profound debut of memory, research and imagination that mines conflicts of heart and intellect.~Kerri Arsenault, Star Tribune