Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon -- Steve Sheinkin
I'm not the nonfiction reader in this household: Josh is. So I'll be passing Bomb over to him just as soon as I've finished writing about it, though I LOVED IT SO MUCH THAT HE'S PRETTY MUCH ALREADY READ IT, SINCE I FELT THE NEED TO READ BITS OF IT ALOUD TO HIM EVERY SINGLE TIME I TURNED A PAGE.
I'd feel guilty, but I'm still recovering from that one week eight years ago when he read Salt: A World History. Or, as I like to call it, THE BOOK THAT MADE ME SO CRAZY THAT IF I EVER MEET MARK KURLANSKY, I'M GOING TO KICK HIM IN THE SHINS FOR SUBJECTING ME TO SEVEN DAYS OF NEVER-ENDING FACTS ABOUT SALT.
Huh. I haven't even had any sugar or caffeine today. Let's move on.
Bomb, as you've probably deduced from the title, is about the Manhattan Project and the spies who well, spied on the Manhattan Project. It begins and ends with the moment that Harry Gold realizes that the jig is up—that his years of acting as a courier for the KGB are not only at an end, but that he'll be lucky to not be executed for his role in stealing secrets for the Soviets. The middle of the book is organized chronologically, and follows three major threads: the efforts of Oppenheimer and Co. to build the atomic bomb, the attempts of the Soviets to steal information about the project, and what the Allied Forces did to impede Germany's progress in building their own bomb.
It's got loads of entertaining facts, has colorful portrayals of the personalities involved:
The thirty-seven-year-old Eifler already had a reputation for reckless bravery. Wounded by flying metal scraps earlier in the war, he'd pulled out his pocketknife and dug the steel from his thigh. His idea of fun was to shoot cigarettes out of his friends' mouths.
and is full-to-the-gills of fabulous quotes and stories:
This kind of stuff infuriated Leslie Groves. "Here at great expense," he moaned to Oppenheimer, "the government has assembled the world's largest collection of crackpots."
In Bomb, Steve Sheinkin takes already-fascinating subject matter and spins it out in such an engrossing manner than I, a devoted fiction reader, read the entire thing in one sitting. The first two-thirds of the book captures and conveys the excitement, curiosity, and tension of the physicists as they pursue their goal, while the last third will doubtless give you that awful stomach-twisting feeling as they experience the oh-what-have-we-created feeling upon completion of the project.
Like I said, I loved it. Sheinkin takes a massive piece of history—one that spans years and countries and careers—and condenses it down into just under 250 pages... but without sacrificing intellectual, political, or emotional complexity. And, for those who want to read further, in addition to a couple of indexes, the book ends with a 5-page bibliography.
Lastly, if you didn't already have a crush on Richard Feynman due to his cameo in The Green Glass Sea, you will after reading this book. BECAUSE HE WAS AWESOME.
Book source: ILLed through my library. This book is a 2012 National Book Award finalist.