Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

Bomb:  The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon--Steve Sheinkin
September 2012 by Flash Point
266 pages--Goodreads

In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned 3 continents. In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world's most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

This is one of those books that has won so many awards that you wonder if it can ever live up to it's reputation.  Bomb does.  Beginning with an FBI take down of a Soviet spy, this book is engrossing.  Science.  Spies (willing and reluctant).  A world war.  More spies.  It's a book that both teens and adults can enjoy. 

Sheinkin does an excellent job of interweaving primary sources with exposition.  With firsthand accounts from scientists, spies, pilots, politicians, and survivors, the entire book is interesting.  Unlike some nonfiction texts, Bomb makes history accessible.  You don't need much background in the history or science to understand and enjoy the book.  Sheinkin also gives us a sound understanding of the context of the decision to use the bomb.  He makes us understand why Truman felt justified in using the bombs on Japan, but he still acknowledging the horror of what happened.  He neither excuses nor condemns.  He just lays out what happened and lets us draw our own conclusions.  

The ending is positively chilling.  "The making of the atomic bomb is one of history's most amazing examples of teamwork and genius and poise under pressure.  But it's also the story of how humans created a weapon capable of wiping our species off the planet.  It's a story with no end in sight.  And, like it or not, you're in it."

My only question is, where were the Germans in all of this?  I know the focus of the book is America vs Soviet Union, but come on.  There's no way they weren't spying on the Americans.  Yes, it creates tension to not know how close the Germans were to completing the bomb while the Americans faced set back after set back, but still.   

Bomb is no dull history text book.  It is an interesting and engaging text worth every award it has received.   I haven't been so engaged in a nonfiction text in ages.  Both the topic and the writing style are excellent.  


  1. Great Review! My only question is that is there a way to find complete information about the plot, setting and the main characters because the book gets a little confusing because of the characters and I need to make notes for school project. Thanks

    1. I would recommend you take notes of major plot events and main characters as you read the book.

  2. There is also a literature unit based on this book for teachers. It is geared toward high school English or social studies classes and is based on Common Core standards. It can be found at Curriculum Aids or on Amazon.



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