Tag Archives: best books

It’s the Bomb!

Mark-

I just finished reading Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. I am deeply, deeply impressed with what Sheinkin accomplished here.

As I read the book, I was swept up in the excitement, the glamor, the intrigue, I was rooting for the Americans (even though I knew the outcome)–while all the while, at the back of my mind there was this niggling voice, saying, “yeah, but it’s a bomb.” And then I got to the last paragraph, where he says, “In the end, it’s a difficult story to sum up. The making of the atomic bomb is one of history’s most amazing examples of teamwork and genius and poise under pressure. But it’s also the story of how humans created a weapon capable of wiping our species off the planet.” Um . . . yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

But that’s the amazing thing he does: he shows both of those realities. Just like the scientists he describes, we readers have to hold both truths in our minds at the same time, and he makes it possible for us to do just that.

Your comments a couple of weeks ago about this book are right on. He doesn’t moralize, just tells us the story, using the words of the participants. Most of the events of this book were familiar to me, although I have to say Sheinkin does the best job of explaining the basics of the atomic bomb, and the difference between the uranium bomb and the plutonium bomb that I’ve ever read–I might even be able to remember it this time around!

And those Norwegians! Weren’t they great? Reading the chapters about the destruction of the heavy water plant was like watching a wonderful adventure movie (in fact, I suspect I may have actually seen a movie based on this event at some point).

So, I noticed that several people over at Heavy Medal were talking about this book as a Newbery possibility, and I think it is right up there as a contender for both the Printz and Nonfiction awards. Where do you think it fits on the age scale? I’m more inclined to think of it as a YA book, just because I don’t think the under-14 crowd has quite enough science or history background to really appreciate it. But I could be wrong. Thoughts?

– Mom

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Just a few more words

Mark,

Just a few more thoughts on this topic–though I’m still hoping we can get some others to comment or guest-post on the subject.

First of all, regarding Margaret Atwood: you’re right, Handmaid’s Tale was the first Atwood I read, but Alias Grace is her best of the ones I have read (and I haven’t read Blind Assassin). Although, as you point out, hers vary widely in style and genre, so it’s a little hard to compare them.

But let’s talk YA. How about John Green? Looking for Alaska, a debut novel, won the Printz Award in 2006 and An Abundance of Katherines won a Printz Honor in 2007. In my opinion, Katherines is the better book, moving beyond the–let’s face it–typical first-novel autobiographicalism of Alaska and doing something really different and interesting. But Katherines did win an honor, something none of Green’s subsequent books have managed to do. And here again, it’s hard to know how much of that is anticipation and familiarity. John Green has an amazing fan base, both online and in terms of real readers who actually buy his books, and of course, that includes the librarians who are on award committees. But it does make me wonder a little bit if I and other readers are able to read his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, completely objectively. Would I have a different reaction to it if I had read it without knowing the author? In this case, possibly not–because it sounds like a John Green book. The characters are John Green characters, and the dialogue is John Green dialogue. So if I didn’t know John Green had written it, I might be thinking, “Wow, this author is really ripping off John Green.” But it will be interesting to see where it lands in this year’s Printz deliberations.

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Good books

Mark,

Let’s talk about books!

I just looked back over my record of what I have read so far this year, so here are my thoughts about the best ones so far:

To start with YA books, here are my favorites of the year so far:

I read Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, back in February, and it still sticks with me as one of the most interesting and original books I’ve read in a long time. Like last year’s Alex winner The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, by Caroline Preston, it’s a book  presented not in traditional text format, but rather in scrapbook format. Chopsticks, though is part mystery, part love story, part psychological thriller. It wasn’t until my second time through it that I realized that the picture of Francisco’s school was the same as the picture of Glory’s hospital, and that the logos on the stationery were similar. That sent me back looking for more clues as to what was really going on. At one point, I was convinced that the words on the boxing robe (Sergio “the Marvel” Martinez) was an anagram that was going to tell me something about Glory’s mother in Argentina. (I couldn’t unscramble it to mean anything important, though!) The book left lots of questions–which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily–but still succeeds, I think as a thought-provoking and visually beautiful piece of literature.

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