New Mexico: Atomic-Age Fiefdom

On its well-manicured surface, Los Alamos, N. Mex. looks much like any other city spawned in the postwar boom of the thriving Southwest. Along the rolling surface of the Pajarito Plateau, paved roads curl past row on row of freshly painted wooden homes. Late-model cars crowd the parking lots that hedge in a 73-store shopping plaza. In green backyards, barbecue pits and mail-order lawn furniture symbolize the age of American leisure.

But for all such outward signs of normalcy, Los Alamos (pop. 12,580) is unlike any other community in New Mexico—or indeed the...

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