Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dad's Book Review: Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin

If you haven't noticed, I've been kind of slacking on my blog. I'm juggling so many other things- work, family, conference and committee involvement, podcasting, ballet- this blog is the one thing I can let drop. And I'm okay with that. But the blog slacking has gotten so extreme, I guess even my dad noticed. So he wrote a book review for me! Thanks, dad!

Earlier this year, I brought home a copy of 2012 Newbery Honor book, Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin, and my dad picked it up while he was visiting. I'm glad he did, because although I was riveted by this compelling work, I never ended up reviewing it myself-- so I really enjoyed my dad's thoughtful take on it. Without further ado, my dad's review: 

Sheinkin, Steve. Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon. 266 p. 2012. Flash Point. Hardcover $19.99. ISBN 9781596434875.

This is a well-written book and an important one. I grew up in the Cold War era so the bomb was a more or less constant threat. Today, young people have gone beyond learning to live with the bomb. The threat of nuclear war seems to be just background noise these days. Since the future lies with the decisions yet to be made and those decisions will be made by young readers the subject of this writing is of importance.

The book itself is three stories in one: the concept of the bomb, its production, and the theft of the technology by the Soviet Union. The mixing of these three stories requires shifting the narrative from one thread to another as they develop. The structure is apparent but not too distracting. Some of the stories of certain individuals were so dramatic, I found myself wanting to know their outcome but having to wait as I read through another part of the narrative. Fortunately, the author pretty much connected most everything so the reader understood what happened and how the various characters ended up. Some attention is required to track this kind of writing. The story is big enough that this type of presentation works.

Enough technical detail was included to understand how the bomb works but not overwhelm the average reader. The photographs were compelling and worth close examination. The seemingly casual handling of highly radioactive and dangerous material was remarkable. In those days, much was not understood about these materials and their effect on human health.

It is clear that technology cannot be contained or kept secret. That is what underlies the espionage part of the story. Moral issues on the part of scientists and spies alike were part of the story. It is remarkable so much of the Manhattan Project was kept secret and that so much of it eventually was stolen.

The brief conclusion reminds us that the bomb is part of our world today. It is a thought-provoking and dark conclusion. There are no clear answers and no clear path to a safe world, let alone a completely peaceful world. That is beyond the scope of this writing, but is the obvious next step to consider. This book encourages thinking in that direction and gives an understanding of a part of history that is closer to our daily life than most young people or most all of us care to think about.


  1. It is clear that a book for "young people" has resonated with all audiences. That's the power of a great story. Insightful review!

  2. I love your comments at the end. One of the most distressing aspects of technological and scientific innovation is the possibility of resulting destruction.

    I agree that the threat of nuclear war feels like a distant memory to my generation. Recently, when North Korea made a few threats, my MBA classmates laughed off these "vague and ridiculous comments." I, however, do not take these threats lightly. With so many countries in possession of nuclear weapons, we are at constant risk. In some ways, I believe that we are so sheltered in this country that we do not appreciate potential devastation. We have little experience with modern warfare on American soil, and I fear that we (citizens not government) would be ill-prepared for living in a conflict zone.

    It seems to me that the threat of nuclear war was replaced by acts of terrorism. I can only imagine what will concern the next generation, or whether it will even be interested in world events.

    1. I really enjoyed reading your review, by the way! Hope to see more of them.

  3. There is also a literature unit for this book for teachers by the same title.

  4. There is also a literature unit for this book for teachers by the same title.

  5. Well written and keeps your interest, Covers the development of the A-bomb including the race with Germany and Russia to get there first. It includes the intrigue of the spy world going on at the time.
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  6. This is a very well presented story of the development of the atomic bomb and the international intrigue that occurred to steal the concepts behind the bomb. I had a hard time putting the book down! Steve Sheinkin is a very gifted writer who can take a pretty complicated story and make it accessible for the casual reader. Can't wait to read his next book!


  7. Really interesting book that was easy to read and gave a comprehensive look of what was going on during WWII from the science and espionage side of the war. Made you feel like you were reading the personal thoughts of all the players of the war. I would recommend this book!

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