Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World's Most Dangerous Weapon
By Steve Sheinkin
Published 2012 by Flash Point
In 1938, a startling discovery was made: when faced with radioactive material, uranium atoms split in two. This discovery would change the face of science and lead to a worldwide race to harness this power in order to win the terrible war raging around the globe.
Talk about a lot to live up to - not only did this book get stellar reviews from a variety of publications and bloggers, but it also cleaned house in the children's literature awards. I waited eagerly for our library to receive a copy and put my name first on the request list for when it finally arrived. I was definitely looking forward to this one.
As I've mentioned, last year was a great year for youth non-fiction, but this book seemed to continually rise to the top of the crop. And for good reason - this book is excellent. This is one of those non-fiction books that reads like fiction - it has a compelling story, full of interesting characters, and you are completely invested in the plot and finding out how it all ends. It doesn't matter that we know how this one ends (heartbreakingly) - Sheinkin has managed to create a true sense of suspense throughout the book. This was one of my favorite things about the movie Argo as well, as one of my reasons for truly believing it deserved the Oscar - I am awed by the ability to create a truly suspenseful tale about something that has already happened and to which we already know the end. Sheinkin is incredibly successful at this, including bits of the story that most readers are probably not familiar with - the myriad spies bouncing around, and the Norwegian involvement. It makes for a truly fascinating read.
This book also has an engaging layout - text boxes break out naturally from the main narrative, and there is always a stopping point on the page in which it makes sense to visit said boxes. The photos and visual elements add to the story and are well-distributed - I like the spreads at the start of each chapter. They help provide a stronger sense of what that next chapter is going to focus on, and which players are going to be important for this next bit. It's also clear that Sheinkin did an extraordinary amount of research for this project - his source notes are extensive.
Perhaps the only negative thing I can say about this book is how scary it is. I do not scare easily - I've been watching and reading horror stories since I was little, even writing my college thesis on horror film. But this book scared the pants off me. Bomb is scary because it's real, because it brings to the forefront the horrifying facts of the world we live in today - if there were even a small conflict between two nations (and not even the leading ones) and it escalated to the nuclear level, all life on Earth would be wiped out. That is terrifying. Similarly, the descriptions and emotions associated with the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima are haunting - I was left with chills.
Truly one of the most outstanding books I've read this year - highly recommended for middle grade and older readers.