Does the mere sight of a history textbook make you yawn? We feel you—those beastly tomes can be so dry. It's all facts and dates and no fun with those puppies.
Enter Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, a.k.a. the book you wish your teacher would assign instead.
Instead of focusing on dates and places (which, let's face it, tend to make your eyes cross after a while), Bomb tells the story of the Manhattan Project (and the accompanying Soviet espionage) in such a way that it reads more like an engaging true-crime novel rather than something you'd ever be tested on. And the coolest part is that it's all real: The quotes were pulled from actual primary sources, and you can confirm every fact in your history book if you want to.
As author Steve Sheinkin would tell you, there's a reason history has the word "story" in it, and he wants to emphasize the narrative that textbooks, in their quest to cram as much as possible between two covers, end up leaving out. He's in a good position to do so, too, because as an ex-textbook writer he's personally responsible for some of their more torturous devices (he cites "Understanding Bar Graphs" as one of his early works). Out of the frustration that arose from his full-time gig, Sheinkin starting writing his own history books that kept the cool stuff in, and Bomb is one of these efforts.
Published in 2012, Bomb received a bunch of critical acclaim. Most notably it won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, it was a Newbery Honor Book, and it was a finalist in the National Book Awards. Those are no small potatoes. But more importantly, Bomb accomplishes exactly what Sheinkin wanted to do, which is tell history without being boring. So fasten your seatbelt, Shmooper, because things are about to get wild.
Just because the photos in Bomb are black and white doesn't mean the events they depict aren't relevant today. In fact, everything set in motion during the end of World War II still reverberates today, and will continue to do so unless every country on the planet suddenly decides to destroy their nukes.
The argument for de-proliferation of nuclear weapons (a.k.a. ditching all nukes) around the world is always a heated debate. No country wants to be the first ones caught with their pants down (so to speak), getting rid of all of their nukes only to have another country say, "Gotcha! Now we have all of the bombs and you have none! Ha!" That wouldn't be a great situation for many reasons. So the countries that are in possession of nuclear weapons are fearful to pare their stock down, and other countries are still desperate to get their hands on them to try to level the playing field.
There are a ton of reasons people get pretty heated about this subject—people debate about whether anyone should have nukes, everyone should have nukes, some countries should have them but not others—but no matter what your opinion on the matter is, as Sheinkin explains at the end of the book, there wouldn't be a single person in the world unaffected by even a "small" nuclear war:
A study published in Scientific American in 2010 looked at the probable impact of a "small" nuclear war, one in which India and Pakistan each dropped fifty atomic bombs. The scientists concluded that the explosions would ignite massive firestorms, sending enormous amounts of dust and smoke into the atmosphere. This would block some of the sun's light from reaching the earth, making the planet colder and darker—for about ten years. Farming would collapse, and people all over the globe would starve to death. And that's if only half of one percent of all the atomic bombs on earth were used. (Epilogue.81)
Those facts are…disturbing, to say the least. And clearly, learning the whole story about how atomic bombs came to be—and the lengths to which some people will go in order to get their hands on them—is something that's pretty relevant to everybody. As Sheinkin sums it up:
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. (Epilogue.82-83)
So yeah, you should probably read this book.
Author Page? Check. Book Page? Check. Whole Package? Check.
Want to know more about Bomb or Steve Sheinkin? This is his website and it's brimming with info.
Steve Sheinkin On Facebook
Send him a friend request…see what happens.
Sheinkin Adorably Allows Adorable Child to Interview Him
This. Is. Adorable.
The Process of Writing the Bomb
Sheinkin is interviewed about how he wrote Bomb, and he shares his various inspirations
Animated Bomb Trailer
Some clever person made a movie trailer for the book—let's just say things get tense.
Steve Sheinkin Can Read…
and he uses that helpful skill to read the opening pages of Bomb to an audience.
Sheinkin Uses the Library Like An Office
He just loves the library. Like, seriously—it's true love.
Two Minutes of Sheinkin
The author introduces Bomb and shares some of his inspirations.
Recruiters definitely had a sense of humor…
Scientists Can Look Bored, Too
A bunch of really smart people, gathered to learn about the possibility of atomic bombs…and looking pretty bored.
All That Was Left
This fascinating picture shows where the tower that held the Trinity Bomb used to exist.
Enola Gay Crew
No shirts, no problem.