Elizabeth J. Church, The Atomic Weight of Love


I always like stories that show the daily life of college students. When I was younger, I fantasized about attending college, while doing my university studies I fantasized about the whole deal being more exciting, and the allure of college-based stories never waned as time went by. So this book had me from the get go with the story of a young woman from Pennsylvania who gets to study science in Chicago. Where this gets more complex is the time at which this particular story takes place; the young woman attends college in the 40s where women were not really expected to use this education. Their primary role was that of wife and homemaker. So the young lady of the story falls in love with a physics professor who is asked to the join the secret lab developing the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. She puts her plans to go to graduate school on hold to follow him there. What follows in a beautifully layered tale of the difficult choices she had to made, the accommodations that followed, the rebellious moments, and the creative ways she found to make life meaningful in spite of the constraints that she faced. In the background, we have a world that is quickly changing, even if some of the changes seem slow to come to Los Alamos.

This is the kind of book that can provide an excellent choice for a book club; there are many themes that can be discussed:

  • The role of women in science / access to higher education
  • Gender relations / inequalities
  • Marriage / gender roles / social expectations
  • Ethical issues related to the development and use of the atomic bomb
  • Ornithology / bird watching / study of bird behavior / intelligence of crows / parallels to be made for the understanding of human beings in society
  • Understanding of life through science vs. art (objectivity vs. subjectivity)

Thanks to Net Galley and Algonquin Books for access to a review copy of this book.


Church, Elizabeth J. The Atomic Weight of Love. Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, 2016.

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