by Steve Sheinkin
Flashpoint (an imprint of Macmillan), 2012
Grades 6 and up
The reviewer purchased a copy of the book.
Spies, Communists, secret parachute missions, scientific breakthroughs, and the race to build the deadliest bomb is the subject of Steven Sheinkin’s (The Notorious Benedict Arnold) latest work, The Bomb. It may sound like a work of fiction, but this story is all true. Sheinkin masterfully weaves together three plots: "The Americans try to build a bomb, the Soviets try to steal it, and the Allies try to sabotage the German bomb project.”
In 1938, Otto Hahn, proved that Uranium atoms would split into two when hit by neutrons from a radioactive element. Word quickly spread in the world of physics, and a race was on to see who could use this breakthrough to build an atomic bomb. Physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, was tapped by the U.S. to head up the Manhattan Project, and Los Alamos was identified as an ideal location to set up a laboratory and testing facility.
Sheinkin's narrative style, thorough research, use of quotes, and small details are pieced together to create a highly engaging story. In the chapter entitled, "Test Shot," the author describes in great detail the first time the atomic bomb was tested at the Trinity site in Los Alamos. Scientists gathered inside a bomb shelter to watch the results through pieces of thick glass to protect their sight. Sheinkin is amazing at building tension as the scientists wait for the countdown; they become jubilant when the test is successful. Then the mood changes.
"We turned to one another and offered congratulations- for the first few minutes. Then, there was a chill, which was not the morning cold."
It was the chill of knowing they had used something they loved- the study of physics- to build the deadliest weapon in human history. (p. 184)
What Oppenheimer and his team of scientists did not know was that documents from their lab had been smuggled out of Los Alamos by Klaus Fuchs and handed over to the Soviets. Sheinkin provides a balanced account of why the U.S. made the decision to use the atomic bomb, while also describing the devastating effects on the Japanese people. It is this grim outcome and loss of civilian lives that plagued Oppenheimer for his remaining years. The struggle between science and ethics is explored a bit at the end as Oppenheimer asked Washington officials to use diplomacy instead of bombs. In final chapters Sheinkin also provides information about how the spies who stole the plans for the atomic bomb were investigated and prosecuted.
The design of the book is a real strength. Sheinkin includes several photos at the beginning of each chapter and at the end of the book, but the story is mainly told through the text. This design worked for me because I was so enthralled with the story, I didn't want a sidebar, map, or diagram interrupting my reading. Sheinkin thoroughly researched the topic which is evident from his lengthy source notes including over thirty primary sources.
Bomb is an exciting, fast-paced thriller that brings together the world of science with history. All you need to do is read the prologue to a group of middle grade readers, and you will have them clamoring for more!
I liked The Bomb for many of the same reasons Cathy has already stated, but I do have one more to add. It seemed that at every turn of the page Sheinkin brought up a topic that reminded me of a book! For example, in 1941, when Oppenheimer attended his first meeting of the Uranium Committee, they mention the 1917 bomb explosion in Halifax Harbor, Canada: Blizzard of Glass by Sally Walker! As we read about the bravery of the Norwegians who helped the Americans destroy Germany’s bomb factory, I thought of Margie Preus’ new book, Shadow on the Mountain. The description of life in Los Alamos reminded me of Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. And, after the bomb was dropped and we learn of the horrific destruction and pain experienced by the people in Hiroshima: Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, and Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki.
Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
The Gadget by Paul Zindel
Where the Ground Meets the Sky by Jacqueline Davies
Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally Walker
Sadako by Eleanor Coerr
Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki