Nerds: Can't Live With 'em, Can't Build an Atomic Bomb Without 'em.
In the exposition, we get to meet most of the big players in the Manhattan Project. Seeing as many of our main characters are brilliant scientists or astute politicians, we get a wide spectrum of social aptitude—in other words, socially awkward nerds incoming. No matter, though: As we get the lay of the land and meet the major players, we're set up to follow these great minds through their journey to build the world's first atomic bomb.
As the Americans struggle to harness atomic energy without blowing themselves up, the Germans are busy trying to build their own atomic bomb. The Russians, taking a different strategy altogether, are busy spying on American and German scientists to try and get their own atomic bomb. Why do all the work, when someone else can do it for you?
Meanwhile, the Americans are trying to take out the Germans, all while playing along with the Russians but not giving them any info on the atomic bomb because they're allies but not exactly friends. And then the war is going on, and….Okay. Are you anxious? We're anxious. Things are starting to get pretty tense. That's the whole point of rising action, though: to bring you to the edge of your seat, just in time for the climax.
The major turning point in the book occurs upon the successful explosion of an atomic bomb at the Trinity test site. The whole story leads up to this moment, with scientists and politicians wondering whether an atomic bomb is anything more than theoretically possible. Once they incinerate half of the New Mexico desert (hyperbole alert), it's clear the answer is a resounding yes—they can indeed build an atomic bomb.
But now that they know how to build an atomic bomb, when and where will they use it? Hiroshima and Nagasaki are bombed in rapid succession, showing the world a new capacity for death and destruction on a massive scale.
Some People Just Can't Catch a Break
In the aftermath of World War II people are still looking for enemies everywhere. Once it's discovered that there were spies in the midst of the super-secret Manhattan Project, people start getting taken down for espionage, including Oppenheimer, who devoted his life to his country and never did anything wrong. The race to build an atomic bomb is over, but it doesn't necessarily mean life can go back to normal.
What Have We Done?
With the race to build an atomic bomb won, the ramifications of using such a weapon are truly hitting home. With the advent of something capable of destroying the planet and wiping out the human race—many times over, in fact—a new era of international relations develops. Only time will tell how this nuclear reality will continue to impact our world, and Sheinkin ends the book by asserting that this is a tale without an ending, and that we're all a part of the story whether we like it or not.