The March Slice of Life Challenge- 30 of 31 Thank you Ruth and Stacey, at Two Writing Teachers, for hosting such a terrific month!
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I also participate in a reading challenge offered by Myra, Fats and Iphigene at the wonderful Gathering Books blog. We pledge to read a certain number of books for children that have won awards. It can be any kind of book.
I just finished Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, The Race to Build—and steal—the world’ most dangerout weapon. It was chosen to receive a Newbery honor medal for the 2012 year, along with the The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, the Sibert Medal for nonfiction and was a National Book Award Finalist.
I’ve been waiting to read Bomb for a while. First, I had to find a copy, then I had others I needed to read first because of teaching some book groups. I’ve read other books about the creation of the atom bomb, like Richard Feynmann’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmann, but never about the actual race and the behind-the-scenes intrigue that occurred. I don’t know how you feel about our dropping of the atom bomb in 1945, but the facts given by Sheinkin indicate that we needed to do it, and needed to show that we had this terrible weapon to force the Japanese to surrender.
The story begins with a scientist named Otto Hahn, who through an unintended experiment with uranium, showed something thought to be impossible when placed next to an element that was radioactive (with unstable nuclei). Through his work, he, with other physicists confirming, discovered that uranium atoms, with the help of speeding neutrons, split, and with an unbelievable force.
Because of this discovery, physicists all over the world were excited, and wondering what this new discovery, the fission of atoms, could mean. Of course, we here in the 21st Century know what it meant, that the Allies won World War II, that the arms race began, particularly between the US and the USSR, keeping us in a scary time called the Cold War. And it also meant unbelievable destruction of two cities, a sense of regret in those who worked so hard to create the bomb, that the world had changed forever with the realization of the possibility of utter destruction. I was a teenager in the cold war, and while I don’t remember the real feelings, I have found poems that I wrote during that time and they are filled with fear of the world coming to an end, of being bombed, of the scary thought that I might not live to adulthood.
The book’s story chronicles the race in both its glory and its dark side. Its focus is on Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the scientists at the secret labs at Los Alamos, New Mexico. It weaves in and out, chapter by chapter, from Oppenheimer’s decisions, to FBI investigations, spies from the Soviet Union gathering information, physicists working with Oppenheimer who gave away secrets, emphasizing the tension, the politics, the sheer willpower that was spent to get it right, and win the war.
The dividers from chapter to chapter show labeled photos of the prominent people, place and events in the story. There is an extensive bibliography, quotation notes and a good index. Sheinkin gave the information a narrative that was interesting, but not emotional. It was a highly interesting book to me because my father, a pilot, was killed just two months before the bombs were dropped, shot down in the Philippines. In my youth, I wished that they had found the answer to the bomb faster, because that might mean my father wouldn't have died. I know now that is a young girl's wishful, even romantic thinking, yet it was a strong one that took a long time to go away. This time in our history is one that we can only find out about by talking to those few who are left and by reading, studying. It's worthwhile to be informed about topics, and this book gave me more information about this scary time in United States history.