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Doom Towns

The People and Landscapes of Atomic Testing, A Graphic History

Andrew G. Kirk and Illustrated by Kristian Purcell

Publication Date - 30 September 2016

ISBN: 9780199375905

384 pages
7 x 10 inches

In Stock

Exploring the history of global atmospheric nuclear testing through graphic history, oral history, and rare archival materials


The history of atomic testing is usually told as a story about big technology, big science, and complex global politics. Doom Towns: The People and Landscapes of Atomic Testing explains critical technological developments and the policies that drove weapons innovation within the context of the specific environments and communities where testing actually took place. The book emphasizes the people who participated, protested, or were affected by atomic testing and explains the decision-making process that resulted in these people and places becoming the only locations and groups to actually experience nuclear warfare during the Cold War. The graphic history presents various viewpoints directly linked to primary sources that reveal the complexity and uncertainty of this history to readers, while also providing evidence and access to archives to help them explore this controversial topic further and to reach their own informed conclusions about this history.

About the Author(s)

Andrew G. Kirk is Professor of Environmental and Western History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is a coauthor of American Horizons (OUP, 2010), author of Counterculture Green (2007) and Collecting Nature (2001), and a Principal Investigator on the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project.

Kristian Purcell is an artist and illustrator based in Bedford, United Kingdom.


"As with any good graphic narrative, the visuals contribute significantly to how the story is presented and received. Purcell's art beyond Doom Towns draws from "the extensive DOE historic photo archives" to create a foundation for his visual interpretation... even though the artistic style may be different, like others in the OUP Graphic Histories Doom Towns is a serious work not easily dismissed because of its graphic novel-like qualities." -- Maryanne A. Rhett, Monmouth University, The Public Historian

"As a work of scholarship, Doom Towns advances the historiography by including the stories and actors that have historically been forgotten or excluded." -- Kim Perez, Fort Hays State University, Kansas History

"Earth's vast deserts and ocean expanses are littered with the eerie, mysterious, and fearsome remains of the planetary nuclear weapons complex. Doom Towns offers a multi-layered, open-ended history that helps make sense of these places and the people who inhabited and worked in them." -- Mark Fiege , Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies, Montana State University, Edge Effects

"This book is a beautiful object and a profound tool. Kirk's graphic history of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site offers a singular vision that could only grow from his immersive decade-long collaboration with one place, its people, and contexts. Paying careful attention to oral histories, nature, and visual culture, Kirk exposes once obscured Cold War spaces to the stark clarity of desert light. Purcell's illustrations help to develop the powerful sense of empathy that is at the core of this book. Doom Towns provides a crucial new way to understand the legacy of the Cold War and the Atomic West--and of doing history through stories that come alive in your hands."--Jeffrey C. Sanders, Washington State University

"Drawn from previously untapped archival material and personal experiences, Kirk's graphic history of atmospheric atomic testing builds on existing scholarship and enriches and enlivens the story of this fascinating period. His work humanizes the impact of science on all parties involved in our early nuclear defense policy and reminds us that what we see is not always what we get."--Congresswoman Dina Titus, Professor Emeritus at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

"Despite geopolitical differences, the United States and other Cold War states all tested nuclear weapons in places indigenous people once called home. Kirk's deftly written and wonderfully illustrated Doom Towns draws on a rich array of interviews and images to reveal the lived history of atomic test sites. The result is a compelling graphic history of a time when worker safety, property rights, and the environment were sacrificed on the radioactive altar of national security."--Patrick McCray, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Doom Towns is extraordinary in every way: as a work of scholarship, as a pedagogical tool, and as an art object. From a thoughtful introduction to carefully curated documents, from haunting and beautiful illustrations to economical prose and a neat narrative arc, this book makes good on the promise of graphic history. It is a triumph that will grab readers--ranging from students to experts in the field--and force them to think about the unthinkable."--Ari Kelman, Penn State

Table of Contents


    Chapter 1: Trinity
    Chapter 2: Crossroads
    Chapter 3: Nutmeg
    Chapter 4: Ranger
    Chapter 5: Doom Town
    Chapter 6: Fallout
    Chapter 7: Boltzman
    Chapter 8: Smokey
    Chapter 9: Secrecy and History


    Doom Towns
    Secrecy and History


    The World at Trinity
    What is a Cold War?
    Dividing the Globe
    Tipping Points and Atomic Escalation
    Eisenhower's New Look
    Atomic West
    Picturing Wastelands


    Oral History
    DOE OpenNet
    Primary Documents
    Images as Evidence
    Making Graphic History