Literature review on BOMB: The race to Build and Steal

Published: 2019-04-11 07:41:24
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Harvey Mudd College
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BOMB, a nonfiction story of the events of World War written by Steve Sheinkin, is an imperfect book with only a few amazing parts. The book showcases the two sides of the Bomb Race, the building of the American bombs and the Soviets’ attempts to steal it. Our two main reoccurring characters represent these themes, Harry Gold, a KGB Agent stealing information for the Soviet Union, and Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos. Gold faces multiple challenges while gathering information, which some of the seemingly resolved problems end up dragging him down later in life. Oppenheimer goes through many internal obstacles, including overworking himself to build the bomb and the negative reaction to the destruction his work attributed to. The story takes place across the globe, mainly in the United States, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, and Norway, each place having at least one main event that attributes to the bomb race in some way. The main thoughts and ideas are great, but packing too many of them into one story and their execution brings to an unsatisfactory read.

The story begins with a German physicist’s discovery of fission, a nuclear reaction where the nucleus of an atom splits and release energy. Theoretically, this reaction could create an atomic bomb and the U.S. is afraid Germany could grow even more powerful if they finish creating a bomb first, so President Franklin Roosevelt orders work to be started towards this nuclear weapon. Shortly afterward, Gold is recruited as a spy for the Soviets and starts his work. The Soviets were scared that the U.S. might betray them, so they work to steal the bomb because they lacked the materials to build their own. Oppenheimer and Leslie Grooves find a spot in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to build their bomb lab. At the University of Chicago, it is confirmed that an atomic bomb was actually feasible. Then, a man named Knut Haukelid from Norway helps to destroy a German heavy water plant called Vemork to delay German’s bomb progress. The KGB then finally gets an inside source to the bomb through a man named Klaus Fuchs and they learn where exactly the bomb is: Los Alamos. Ted Hall also gave information to the Soviets in fear of the worldly destruction America would cause if they were the only one with an atomic bomb. Shortly after, Roosevelt dies and Harry Truman is sworn into office. After a lot of work, America finds Germany’s atomic bomb site and realizes they were two years behind the U.S. The Soviets also find the site, but all the physicists were already taken by Americans. Then Adolf Hitler commits suicide ending Germany’s part in the war. America was able to test its first atomic bomb and it worked better than they expected. After threatening Japan and receiving a refusal of surrender, American decided to drop their bomb. Their landing point? Hiroshima.

As you can see, the story jumps all over the place, between different places, people, and events. This is one of the things I dislike about this book. The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain, another World War story, is able to focus on one point, living as a Nazi. Bomb, however, tries to tell too much of the story. Yes, there are lots of different parts of the war that inadvertently affected the bomb progress, but Sheinkin could have quickly mentioned these events instead of taking away from the main idea to add too much detail to these unimportant matters. The book was also extremely confusing; you could tell how hard it was for the writer to discuss certain points efficiently. Some content from earlier chapters are needed for later, but it is rarely mentioned again so the book gets extremely confusing. I really can’t state my stance of its predictability, because it’s just a retelling of a historical event that almost everyone knows of.

Now, let’s talk about what made this book great. The chapter High Concentration really showcased Sheinkin’s writing abilities. If he wrote like this throughout the entire book, then I might have enjoyed it more. It included action, suspense, and even humor. The last thing you’d expect from a book about one of the worst wars in history is to be cracking up laughing, but it was executed perfectly. Then in the chapter End Game, a spy named Lora Cohen receives papers to be sent over to the KGB. Her overwhelming confidence is showcased wonderfully in this chapter. She literally gives an FBI agent the papers hidden in a tissue box and boards her train before he gives them to her because she felt in her bones that he’d give them back to her, and he does. She takes an incredible risk on a limb and she succeeds. I feel I know exactly who this character is, and she is only mentioned in this chapter. Next is Harry Gold’s character conclusion. “He had a few more minutes to destroy seven years if evidence.” This one line, stated at the beginning of the book and at the end, showcases Gold’s character development. His life was messy, but Sheinkin’s book does a great job retelling it. Harry Gold gave up, he accepted that he was going to be arrested, that he would let everyone down, friends, family coworkers… Suddenly, he rushes to fix everything. This is his last attempt to hold on, to stay a chemist who supported his family and lived a normal life, but he fails. This line, right here, brought the most impact on my reading experience throughout the entire book. It tells so much about Gold’s character. Most of the people in this book just felt like plot devices or fictional characters, but Harry Gold felt like a real being. I rate this book a two out of five. Most of the writing was bad, but I would recommend this book for the few chapters that are cleverly written. It’s conclusions to characters and story elements are amazing. It almost feels as if someone else wrote certain parts of the book, but it was all Sheinkin. He will make amazing books in the future with great conclusions, but he’ll have to brush up on his execution of the rest of a story.

sheldon

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