Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Ultimate Weapon: the Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb

THE ULTIMATE WEAPON: THE RACE TO DEVELOP THE ATOMIC BOMB; Edward T. Sullivan; New York: Holiday House, 2008. 182pp. Juvenile/Young Adult Non-Fiction.
This book was so interesting I wished it had had even more information than it does, particularly about the physics of the creation of the atomic bomb. Most of us older types know a little bit about the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, even about the first atomic pile experiment in the squash court under the University of Chicago's Stagg Field. But Sullivan adds texture and detail to what we know, and shares a wealth of information beyond that. Although the race to build the A-bomb was intended to beat the Germans to the punch, spies on the project were actually feeding information to the Soviets, who would have nuclear weapons shortly after the end of the war, and German's project fizzled after its Finnish heavy water plant was blown up. Two "cities" besides Los Alamos sprang up almost overnight as farmers and townsfolk were uprooted with barely two weeks' notice and evicted from their homes and land to create Oak Ridge, Kentucky and Hanford, Washington, two ultra-secret project sites. The first test of Trinity, the first nuclear weapon, near Alamagordo, New Mexico, is described in stunning detail by those present, and Sullivan's description of the lead-up to that test, when no one could predict positively what would happen, is taut with suspense. The Ultimate Weapon would be a fine choice for upper elementary and junior high school students working on history of science reports or just for the pleasure of discovering the past. There is a little bit of swearing, but nothing uncalled for under the circumstances. Also includes an
extensive reading list and many vintage photos. Well done!

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