Title: Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
Author: Steve Sheinkin
Reading Level: 6.4 grade level equivalent (according to Scholastic), but definitely most appropriate for high school readers
Synopsis: We all know that this story does not have a happy ending. The race to build an atomic bomb swept us into an era of incomprehensible mass destruction that still haunts our world today. The bleak ending is rendered even more tragic by the noble ideals that sparked this movement: scientists testing the limits of their discoveries in a quest to halt ruthless dictators, politicians making deadly decisions in order to protect the lives of their citizens, and spies committing acts of treason in an effort to ensure stability among global powers. From science to politics to secret networks, Bomb ties together the stories of the people and events that led to one of the most powerful technological advances of the twentieth century.
Context/Themes: Sheinkin proves that nonfiction accounts of history can be every bit as exciting as the most imaginative works of fiction. While covering numerous historical facts, the narrative highlights the personal, national, and global dilemmas that motivated key players during this period. This story is an important one to tell because it forces the reader to confront many of the ethical questions that we continue to face as a society. Do we have a responsibility to limit potentially destructive scientific advancements? When, if ever, is mass destruction justified? Knowing that we have the ability to destroy our entire planet, how can we ensure that doesn’t happen? This book could be used in the classroom in a variety of ways. For example, it could be connected to a unit on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which raises similar concerns about science and ethics. It could also serve as the core text in a unit about contemporary controversies related to science and technology. In any case, if you are looking for an engaging, historical version of events leading to the creation of atomic weapons, I highly recommend Sheinkin’s Bomb.
(You can check out other historical books by Steve Sheinkin at his website.)