David and I are Big Bang Theory fans. Ha! David and I are fanatical devotees of The Big Bang Theory, and have watched each season in order on Netflix. Now that Time Warner has given us an insanely great deal, we’ve been recording the current season on DVR and are completely caught up to date! Now I am in mourning that I don’t have anything else to watch. Michael will not watch it, saying that it hits way too close to home. However, he has been able to explain the more gaming-related episodes, although it makes him depressed that he can do that. David and I get all of the other jokes, as we are located somewhere on the periphery of the geek/nerd spectrum.
A couple of weeks ago, I brought home the new teen nonfiction book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin, not because I am tremendously interested in nuclear weapons, but because it is getting lots of Newbery buzz, and I feel a moral obligation to read everything that is a contender for the Newbery. I put it on the coffee table in the living room, which is my sneaky way of getting my husband and son to read things they wouldn’t see otherwise. (I guess that jig’s up now.) David read it first and loved it, so I had to give it a go. He was upstairs when I started it, and when I got to page 11, I yelled up the stairs, “Sheldon is Robert Oppenheimer!” I could not believe it. Yes, I know that Sheldon and Leonard are physicists on the show, but I did not realize that they were based on actual people. I’m still not sure of Leonard, but Robert Oppenheimer was a tall, skinny, arrogant young physicist when he was chosen to head up the Manhattan Project. He was the type of guy who would audit other professors’ classes and call out things like, “Oh, please! Don’t insult our intelligence!” In other words, Sheldon Cooper.
Last week, Bomb was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People. I have finally finished it, and I agree that it is an excellent work of nonfiction. I learned so much!—although that may not be very impressive, since I must admit that the middle-school boys in the Newbery Club that I visited yesterday were way ahead of me in terms of scientific knowledge of things that go “boom.” The book begins with the discovery of fission in Germany and continues in detail through the Manhattan Project and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The very last chapters relate the development of the hydrogen fusion bomb and the last years of the major characters in this brilliant and horrifying passage in our history.
Another book that just came out in the past couple of months is Shadow on the Mountain, by Margi Preus. When I read the reviews, I thought, “the Norwegian resistance?” This must be a much larger topic than I realized, however, since Bomb devotes several chapters to the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis, and what a thrilling adventure it was! There are so many little-known people who give everything for the cause of freedom every day. We should be so thankful for them!
On the other hand, I was shocked and saddened to realize how little it takes for some people to become traitors to their country. Right from the beginning, the government worried about the physicists’ loyalty, since many of them had come from Germany and Russia. In some cases, their worries were unfounded, but very often, they were right to keep a close eye on these guys. The most crushing, to me, was Ted Hall, who graduated from college in physics at age 18 and was recruited for the Manhattan Project at age 19. Once he started working at Los Alamos, the other scientists thought he was just a quiet loner, but he was really spending a great deal of time deep in thought. He was considering whether it was appropriate for only one nation to have this enormous secret about how to build an atomic bomb. He decided that, since Russia was not our enemy, but was also fighting Germany, they should also have a nuclear weapon. So he found a convenient KGB agent and passed on the information. Everything. He knew everything, and he told them everything. And that is how Stalin tested a nuclear bomb very shortly after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman was stunned. If you don’t know much about Stalin, please allow me to highly recommend last year’s Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, a story based on the author’s grandparents. I was amazed to find out that there has been a human being even more evil than Hitler.
You might be able to tell by now that I really appreciated this book. At about 250 pages (depending on how much of the resource notes section you want to read), it is appropriate for teens and adults. There is some mild bad language in the quotes from the physicists, but they were scientists, not sailors, so you may be able to overlook it.
Now I have to go back to the Big Bang episode where Sheldon gets depressed and buys all those cats that he names after famous physicists. I may recognize some of the names this time!