Sheinkin, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build — And Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Flashpoint, 2012. 272p. Grades 8-12. NonFiction. (Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award 2012)
In 1938, a German physicist discovered that Uranium could be split in two and would create an explosion. This discovery set of a race to build the first atomic bomb. Especially once World War II broke out. The country who discovered the atomic bomb first would win the war. As Germany, the United States and the USSR all raced to discover the secrets, all three of the countries we’re doing their best to sabotage resources and people, and steal plans.
Review: Bomb was a fast paced and fascinating read. It was brilliantly written. While the title is sensationalist, it lives up to it. It begins with an ending; one of the communist spies who gave information on the Manhattan project is getting arrested. From that point on, the book tells the story leading up to and during WWII. The main focus of the book was the facts, but it was interesting and entertaining nonetheless. Bomb didn’t have any lag time. The multiple perspectives kept the tempo of the book fast paced. The book not only tells the story of the Americans racing to build the bomb, but also gives perspectives of intelligence officers who went into Germany to ruin the heavy water collection and to keep Heisenberg, the leading German physicist, from working on the German’s bomb. Sheinkin places emphasis on the different communists who infiltrated the Manhattan Project, which was some of the most interesting to read.
You never felt like it was trying to suppose facts into the narrative. The amount of research and sources Sheinkin used is impressive to say the least. It is also useful that he separates out his sources into books, primary sources, quotes, and pictures. There are eleven pages of sources for the quotes alone. The large amount of direct quotes utilized throughout the novel gave life to the race to make the atomic bomb. Without the large number of quotes, strategically placed throughout the narrative, the story may have become bogged down in scientific facts about the physics of creating an atomic bomb. He is able to use the quotes to create dramatic tension. For example, this exchange about right before the first bomb test makes your heart race to read:
“”Zero minus one minute.”
“As the time interval grew smaller and changed from minutes to secons, the tension increased by leaps and bounds,” recalled General Farrel.
“Unable to stay still a moment longer, George Kistaikowsky jumped up and ran to the top of the bomb shelter. “I put pn dark glasses and turned away from the tower,” he said. “I didn’t think anything would happen to me.”
“Zero minus ten seconds, nine, eight, seven…”…“Oppenheimer, on whom had rested a very heavy burden, grew tenser as the last seconds turned off,” remember Farrel. “He scarcely breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds he stared directly ahead.”
Allison shouted, “Zero!”
“And then, without a sound, the sun was shining. Or so it looked.” Otto Frisch described…. Frank Openheimer thought he heard his brother whisper, “It worked.”” pg. 182-3
One of the best parts of the book is Sheinkin’s ability to write about complicated physics in such a way that someone, such as myself, who has only take high school physics many years ago can understand how the bomb is created and the problems the men needed to overcome in making it. I think this could be a book for everyone, but could be especially good for someone who does not typically enjoy reading nonfiction. Bomb reads very much like a novel, which could hook potential readers.