A riveting history of a lesser-known Manhattan Project triumph that, like so many wartime triumphs, has lost its luster.

THE APOCALYPSE FACTORY

PLUTONIUM AND THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC AGE

How Americans made the plutonium that went into the first atomic bomb.

Beginning a captivating, unnerving history, Seattle-based journalist Olson emphasizes that while uranium gets the headlines, plutonium makes up almost all of the thousands of bombs in arsenals around the world. In 1943, everyone in an immense southern Washington area received orders to move out within a month. Tens of thousands of workers poured in to build entire cities and infrastructure and then three nuclear reactors to produce plutonium and three huge factories to extract it. Olson delivers gripping accounts of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s construction, the iconic summer 1945 test in New Mexico, and the bombs’ destruction of Japanese cities. Hanford’s output peaked in the 1960s before obsolescence and overproduction took its toll. By the 1970s, most reactors had shut down. With the project’s declassification, the first historical accounts extolled its immense effort, technical accomplishments, and ultimate triumph, but time has produced more unsettling information—especially regarding the health effects, given that “Hanford had released far more radioactivity into the air, water, and soil than outsiders had known.” Until Hanford, no one had handled radioactive material on an industrial scale, and readers will be dismayed as Olson describes the results. In addition to the problems associated with radioactive gas, cooling water and factory chemicals flowed into the nearby Columbia River. Radioactive solid waste lay in open dumps until experts decided that this was a bad idea; then it was collected in huge steel containers with a predicted lifetime of 20 years, after which someone would surely find a better way to deal with it. Most are still there, corroded and leaking. Billions of dollars have been spent in a cleanup, but a huge area remains poisoned. If it’s any comfort, Kate Brown’s superb Plutopia (2013) reveals that the Soviet Union’s version of Hanford was worse.

A riveting history of a lesser-known Manhattan Project triumph that, like so many wartime triumphs, has lost its luster. (32 illustrations)

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63497-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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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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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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