Knight examines the lives of several generations of a family through the lens of its brilliant, mercurial patriarch.
In the opening scene of this debut novel, young Adam Brooks hears news of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima in the last days of World War II. It’s an event that will change the path of his life, as he embarks on a career immersed in science, mathematics, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of both. Knight intersperses chapters focusing on Adam as he progresses from bright-eyed young man to a renowned expert in his field with chapters exploring successive generations of his family and how the rigorous and idiosyncratic manner in which he’s raised his children has affected them. At its best, this novel demonstrates the multifaceted way in which people occupy different roles in the course of the same life: to some members of his family, Adam is a revered figure, capable of solving a host of problems with the resources at his disposal; to others, he can be cold, holding the people around him to impossibly high standards. Given the novel's time span, Knight also explores shifts in scientific focus, including the changing ways in which nuclear weapons were perceived from the 1940s until late in the 20th century, and the fluctuations in the political and cultural landscapes over the same period. The way the book moves forward and backward in time is generally illuminating rather than disorienting; by the end, the overall effect is a deeper understanding of this family’s strengths and flaws and the way Adam has shaped and been shaped by them.
A memorable exploration of the consequences of history on both a personal and an intellectual level.