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.
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