I’ll start out by once again admitting that I am not a fan of nonfiction unless I am really interested in the topic. I read this book since it was one of the 2015 Loudoun County Schools Battle of the Books selections, and I’ll be honest: I saved it for last because I was dreading reading nonfiction. I was wrong.
The book follows the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. The chapters read more like fiction than a history book, and I enjoyed getting insight into each of the major players involved with the Manhattan Project as well as some of the spies and people involved with the KGB. To me, what distinguished this from a piece of pure fiction was the point of view. Because the author provided a broad cast of characters, the reader is given a good view of the big picture, but we are not placed deeply in any one point of view. For me, history is much easier when I can understand it subjectively, from one point of view at a time. After I passed the halfway mark, I felt I knew the characters well enough to start to get drawn into the story. The tension kept building as the U.S. raced to develop two types of nuclear bombs. All the while, Russia was competing by soliciting spies to send information about U.S. research.
This book read quickly, and it provides a good overview of the time period. I especially liked reading about how paranoid everyone was—keeping secrets from anyone and everyone, and sending members of the military to spy on even those working to develop the bomb (with good reason, too!). It’s creepy to see how paranoia and the race to develop a destructive weapon has the power to unite humanity. It’s also chilling to look at the pictures of the major players involved—to see what might be hiding behind their eyes. After the bomb went off, the team celebrated, but the author did well to capture the dissonance of that time. Though the scientists were happy that their bomb worked (and it looked like the war was going to end), they realized they had used science to kill a large number of people in a terrible way—and that made many of the scientists sick.
I would recommend this book for young adults looking to gain a broad understanding of history. Although I had read and studied this subject extensively in my past, I still learned insights about some of the major players that helped make the whole incident both more forgivable and more disturbing at the same time. I read the book Hiroshima, and Bomb is a good counterpoint: the combination allows us to see both sides of the issue. Decisions in history are not easy, and there are always conflicting factors involved. It’s an important piece of history that should be shared—and this book presented an accessible way to do so.
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