We visited Los Alamos, New Mexico, last summer on vacation. As often happens to me, I became fascinated by its story. It’s a town, high on a mesa in the middle of nowhere, where a bunch of scientists and their families lived in the 1940s in a feverish race to develop an atomic bomb before the Germans did. It was all done secretly, with many family members not knowing what the adults were even working on.
Children of Los Alamos: An Oral History of the Town Where the Atomic Bomb Began is based on interviews with several of the children who lived in Los Alamos during that WWII time period. I found it fascinating – one thing the kids remembered fondly was that the community was really utopian in many ways – it was a gathering of very educated people, with excellent schools, and so a culture of learning and excellence existed.
On the down side, there was definitely some irony involved for the kids as they grew up and discovered what the secret of Los Alamos really was. Their parents were working on a project which probably ended the war sooner, saving many lives – yet in doing so, it ended many others. Many of the kids have some ambivalence about that.
Yet there are wonderful memories of the scenery and even the smells (the town is near Bandalier National Monument Park, which apparently was basically empty for the kids to explore in the 1940s – what a backyard!) and the camaraderie that existed. Many of them have searched in vain the rest of their lives trying to recreate the feeling that existed during that time, and many have returned to live there.