Why did the Third Reich, for all its industrial might and technological resources, fail to create a nuclear bomb? That's the central concern of this masterful, wide-angle reckoning by Powers (Thinking about the Next War, 1982, etc.). At the heart of the panoramic narrative is Werner Heisenberg, whose work on quantum mechanics and the so-called uncertainty principle earned him considerable fame during the 1920's. Along with most other world-class physicists, Heisenberg was fascinated by fission's potential. But unlike many colleagues who had emigrated because of Hitler's institutionalized anti-Semitism, he remained in Germany throughout the war. Love of country partially explained this difficult decision, which also involved a desire to preserve and protect Germany's scientific future. At any rate, Heisenberg—who early on had convinced Albert Speer and the Wehrmacht that A-bombs were a mission impossible—``was free to do what he could to guide the German atomic research effort into a broom closet.'' Fellow scientists—in particular, those assigned to the Manhattan Project—were generally reluctant to accept Heisenberg's subsequent apologia. Nor at the time did Allied intelligence believe that he was trying to develop reactors rather than bombs. Powers nonetheless determines that the unwillingness of Heisenberg and other German physicists to put a superweapon at the disposal of a military/police state was indeed a root cause of Hitler's failure to become a charter member of the nuclear club. In reaching this arguably persuasive conclusion, the author provides vivid vignettes on Heisenberg's peers—Hans Bethe, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, etc. Covered as well are the counterespionage campaigns mounted by Anglo-American agents (including baseball player Moe Berg), who at one point seriously considered abducting or assassinating Heisenberg. A comprehensive and resonant overview, notable for its compassionate perspectives on the moral dilemmas faced by men of genius caught up in a global conflict. (Sixteen pages of photographs—not seen.).

Pub Date: March 2, 1993

ISBN: 0-394-51411-4

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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


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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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