A touch narrower than Gerard DeGroot’s indispensable The Bomb: A Life (p. 31), but still a useful, very accessible summary...

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BEFORE THE FALLOUT

FROM MARIE CURIE TO HIROSHIMA

Science is a cumulative and collaborative process, even when it’s put to the job of killing people.

Thus, writes popular historian/biographer Preston (A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, 2004, etc.), “the destructive flash that seared Hiroshima into history was the culmination of fifty years of scientific creativity and more than fifty years of political and military turmoil.” Many of the best scientific minds from many countries had been engaged in coaxing out the secret of the atom ever since Marie and Pierre Curie coined the word radioactivity in 1898. Shortly after the news escaped in 1939—despite Niels Bohr’s efforts to keep it quiet—that expatriate German scientists had discovered how to split an atom’s nucleus, more than a dozen laboratories around the world succeeded in producing nuclear fission. Some classically trained scientists could scarcely believe such reports; Robert Oppenheimer, for instance, protested that fission was an impossibility; all the same, writes Preston, “within days he had changed his mind and was speculating that this ‘could make bombs.’” Preston ably shows the like evolution of thought across the worldwide community of science, as nuclear programs sprang up in the Soviet Union, Japan, Britain, and Nazi Germany. Some failed, she suggests, for political reasons, and some of those for reasons of mere expediency; the Soviet Union could conceivably have had a uranium bomb in WWII, but a leading scientist there argued that while the nuclear bomb was theoretically possible, “the Soviet Union was not ready for such a step; an atom bomb was not a weapon for the war with Germany but a matter for the future.” Whence, of course, the arms race that defined the nascent Cold War, with which Preston closes her narrative, giving readers a where-are-they-now view of some of the high clergy in the church of mutually assured destruction.

A touch narrower than Gerard DeGroot’s indispensable The Bomb: A Life (p. 31), but still a useful, very accessible summary of things atomic.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8027-1445-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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