Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
“You must reckon”, he (Wilson) said, “that the Germans will in no circumstances take any prisoners.” It was not normal procedure to give commandos this kind of information, but Wilson wanted the men going in with no illusions. “You have a fifty-fifty chance of doing the job,” Wilson said, “and only a fair chance of escaping.”
August 15, 2020 marks 75 years since the ending of World War 2, and ‘Bomb’ written by Steve Sheinkin is the perfect book to read on this historic occasion. This work of nonfiction is a page-turner in every sense of the word. Just as a kaleidoscope changes patterns, the spotlight of this book shifts from history to science, spy-thriller to tragedy – and the amazing thing is that all of it is true!
We know how this book ends even before we start it. The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made the world recoil in horror at the power that humanity wields, and firmly stamped America as the world’s superpower post World War 2. ‘Bomb’ is a roller-coaster read that meticulously chronicles the domino effect of events that led to the horrific bombing: from the accidental discovery of the scientific principle behind the atomic bomb, the unfolding of World War 2 as a grim backdrop to labs where scientists scattered across the globe raced to be the first to create the bomb, the stories of spies who played catalyst in a dangerous game, and finally, the politics behind the decision to drop the bomb. Tremendous research has gone into the novel and it could have been a dry recounting of facts. Instead, what makes it sparkle is that the author chooses to tell stories of people behind the events. The central protagonist of this story is Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant American scientist, and patriot who was challenged, fascinated, and horrified by the Frankenstein he created. But along with his narrative, we hear the stories of the young people who became unlikely spies, the unbelievably brave soldiers, and the scientists who dedicated themselves to a cause with very little chance of success. Through this book, Sheinkin chronicles the spectrum of humanity – its capacity for genius to create impossible things like the atomic bomb, its capacity for ruthlessness as men hanker for power, and the short memory of humanity which is the reason that history repeats itself.
For parents: For this generation of children, for whom the seismic events of World War 2 belong to the pages of history, this Newbery Honour book that features black and white photographs of events and the people involved, humanizes the steady step-on-step build up to a climax of a war that seventy-five years later still shapes current politics. The story also gives the reader a sense that the peace we enjoy and take for granted is a fragile and precious thing that can be destroyed with one press of the nuclear button.
This book is a must-read for all middle schoolers to understand that they enjoy a peace that is hard-won at tremendous human cost, and that they are the true guardians of the future of humanity.
Age Appropriateness: 11+ years
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