Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Read Anything Good lately? - Bomb

Non-fiction is not my favorite thing in the world. Perhaps I am scared from years of loathing text book formats and skimming bodies of text looking for vital information. However if you are in an educational field, you are aware that the new common core standards are placing such emphasis on non-fiction in the classroom. I hope text book authors are learning a thing or two from one of their former counterparts, Steve Sheinkin. He is the author the 2013s Newberry Honor book, Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon and he is also the author to help me discover a new found appreciation for non-fiction.

Bomb is all about the secret war to build the world's first atomic bomb. The discovery of how to split Uranium atoms launched the arms race between the Allied Forces, Germany and Russia. At the time of this discovery Albert Einstein was vacationing on Long Island (a fact I certainly nerded out on) he immediately sent a letter to FDR stressing the importance of this discovery! A crack team of leading scientists were assembled led by Oppenheimer in a remote lab in Los Alamos. Little did they know there were some spies in their midsts and what does the destruction of a German cold water plant have to do with this? We all know what the result of their work, this is the story we don't know, the unclassified story of the atomic bomb.

Sheinkin took an interesting moment in history and crafting an amazing story. Had this been a history channel special it may have momentarily held my interest, if this same story was written by any other author I probably would not have made it past chapter one. Luckily this story was in the capable hands of Sheikin. He admits that he is a recovering text book writer with a background in film, which explains why the book felt cinematic. In the first chapter we meet poor Harry Gold destroying all of his papers when some federal agents are knocking on his door. I was drawn in immediately! What did this guy do, why is he destroying his stuff? What is the story there? I felt bad for Harry Gold because of the context in which his story was presented. These people were all real people from history but Sheinkin developed these characters and made you feel like you really knew these people. I identified most with Oppenheimer. As leader of the team he was driven to get to the bomb before the enemy did, out of necessity but he also had an intense internal conflict with the realization of the devastation these weapons bring. Another cinematic tool Sheinkin mastered is suspense! As mentioned espionage is a factor in this story there are some tense moments when some spies are nearly discovered. (I'd love to tell you about it however I don't want to spoil it for you!)

If you are into history or just a good story I highly recommend Bomb. Sheinkin has a few other historical works under his belt covering The Notorious Benedict Arnold and the Old West (Which Way to the Wild West?) which I plan to check out! His latest is a work of fiction but based in a historical setting, Lincoln's Grave Robbers.

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