A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Chris Crutcher (Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Karla Kuskin (1932-2009), The Philharmonic Gets Dressed.
- In 1867, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, the first dental school in the U.S., is established. Read Doctor De Soto by William Steig.
- In 1897, the first ship arrives in Seattle carrying gold from the Yukon, a Canadian Territory. Read Children of the Gold Rush by Claire Rudolf Murphy and Jane G. Haigh.
From my point of view, author Steve Sheinkin is one of the mostÂ interesting young writers of narrative nonfiction today. Like most who choose to write nonfiction, he has an obsession, a passion, for history. But he excels in making history exciting for young readers, in bringing them into the action and adventure of whatever topic he handles. As someone who also creates nonfictionÂ for children, I am in awe of his particular talent. He writes the kind of books I would love to writeâ€”and provides children with stories they want to read.
September is Read a New Book month, and Sheinkinâ€™s new book Bomb: The Race to Buildâ€”and Stealâ€”the Worldâ€™s Most Dangerous Weapon kept me riveted for 260 pages.Â The story begins and ends on May 22, 1950, with Harry Gold rushing around his bedroom, destroying seventeen years of evidence before the FBI arrives to arrest him. Even the verbs of this scene shout actionâ€”ripped, stumbled, grabbed, shovedâ€”as if the text might have been written by the master of espionage fiction himself, John le Carre. Immediately Sheinkin brings us into the world of espionage, Â counterintelligence, spies, secrets, and the race to build the atomic bomb. As he tells us â€śThis is a big story. Itâ€™s the story of the creationâ€”and theftâ€”of the deadliest weapon ever invented.â€ť
In the first part of the race, Robert Oppenheimer, Americaâ€™s brilliant theoretical physicist, pulls together his dream team and races against the clock to develop an atomic bomb before the Germans do. But although perfect for this job, Oppenheimer was a Communist at one period of his life and hence has been the subject of investigation by the FBI since 1941. Realizing that Americans are developing this weapon, the Soviet Unionâ€™s KGB makes every effort to infiltrate Oppenheimerâ€™s scientific team and obtain the plans for the bomb for themselves.Â And as the book progresses Knut Haukelid of Norway and other members of the Norway resistance set out on an almost suicidal mission to blow up the plant creating â€śheavy waterâ€ť needed for the German bomb. Why does anyone need to read spy thrillers when the actual history of this time period is so exciting?
Just as he did in The Notorious Benedict Arnold Sheinkin plays up the drama, develops characters, and takes readers to the heart of the action. In the process he makes the evolution of the atomic bomb seem like one of the most amazing stories every told. But rather than ending the book with the explosion of the first bomb, Sheinkin carries the story forward to its impact on Oppenheimer and to the world in general.
As someone who reads widely in World War II history, I found myself saying in every chapter, â€śI didnâ€™t know that!â€ť For young readers, ages eleven through fourteen, the entire saga will be news. If you want to pair a new fiction with nonfiction, Margi Preusâ€™s Shadow on the Mountain will help round out the part of Sheinkinâ€™s book that takes place in Norway. Even those who might not think themselves or their children the ideal audience for this particular topic, Bomb is worth reading and studyingâ€”just to show what an author can accomplish in narrative nonfiction.
Hereâ€™s a passage from Bomb:
Harry Gold was right: This is a big story. Itâ€™s the story of the creationâ€”and theftâ€”of the deadliest weapon ever invented. The scenes speed around the world, from secret labs to commando raids to street-corner spy meetings. But like most big stories, this one starts small. Letâ€™s pick up the action sixteen years before FBI agents cornered Harry Gold in Philadelphia. Letâ€™s start 3,000 miles to the west, in Berkeley, California, on a chilly night in February 1934.
On a hill high above town, a man and a woman sat in a parked car. In the driverâ€™s seat was a very thin young physics professor named Robert Oppenheimer. Beside him sat his date, a graduate student named Melba Phillips. The two looked out at the view of San Francisco Bay.
[photo: Robert Oppenheimer poses at the front of his classroom at Princeton University, December 17, 1947.]
Originally posted September 17, 2012.