Module 11: Bomb by Steve Sheinkin


Book Cover Image:

 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015)

Book Summary:

Sheinkin’s nonfiction account explores the discoveries, explorations, betrayals and experiments leading up to – and beyond – the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II.  He begins at the end — with the investigation of the spying activities of Harry Gold, a United States chemist who spied for the Soviet Union throughout World War II.  Sheinkin then flashes back to the beginning of the story, presenting biographical information about Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who would eventually head up the U. S. team that developed the atomic bomb.  From there, Sheinkin skillfully leads readers through the scientific and political developments that led to the bombing; through multiple espionage campaigns involving the FBI, the KGB, and the OES; through the research and testing of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico; and through the final devastation of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  At each new development of the story, a photo gallery introduces the key players in that part of the action.  Sheinkin ends his thorough exploration by addressing the aftermath of the atomic bomb, the development of nuclear weapons, and the resulting arms race.

 APA Reference of Book:

Sheinkin, S., & Colvin, J. (2012). Bomb: The race to build–and steal–the world’s most dangerous weapon. New York: Roaring Brook Press., & R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company.


I have been delaying reading this book for several years, mostly because the book cover seemed uninteresting.  Although I understand the historical accuracy of the cover — a background of a mushroom cloud, with a representation of The Enola Gay in front — the color and images do not draw the reader in.   The cover, however,  belies what lies within the book.  From the beginning, Sheinkin creates an atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and urgency, all while remaining historically accurate.  His explanations of the physics of atomic energy make the concept understandable for the target audience; his descriptions of the competing teams of scientists make real the concept that World War II was fought on many fronts.  Most interesting are the multiple stories of espionage.  His skillful placement of these spy stories in the midst of the most detailed scientific developments demonstrates his understanding of his audience:  at the point when the prose threatens to become too intellectual, the action of espionage draws the reader back in.  Despite the less-than-dramatic cover, this story engages the reader from the beginning.   Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Sheinkin’s book, I learned much about the atomic arms race, as well.

Professional Review:

” While comprehensive in his synthesis of the political, historical, and scientific aspects of the creation of the first nuclear weapon, Sheinkin focuses his account with an extremely alluring angle: the spies. The book opens in 1950 with the confession of Harry Gold – but to what? And thus we flash back to Robert Oppenheimer in the dark 1930s, as he and readers are handed another question by the author: “But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” Oppenheimer’s realization that an atomic bomb could be created to use against Nazi Germany is coupled with the knowledge that the Germans must be working from the same premise, and the Soviets are close behind. We periodically return to Gold’s ever-deepening betrayals as well as other acts of espionage, most excitingly the two stealth attacks on occupied Norway’s Vemork power plant, where the Germans were manufacturing heavy water to use in their own nuclear program. As he did in the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Sheinkin here maintains the pace of a thriller without betraying history (source notes and an annotated bibliography are exemplary) or skipping over the science; photo galleries introducing each section help readers organize the events and players. Writing with journalistic immediacy, the author eschews editorializing up through the chilling last lines: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.”

Review Source:
Sutton, R. (2012). Bomb: The race to build-and steal-the world’s most dangerous weapon. [A review of Bomb: The race to build – and steal – the world’s most dangerous weapon by S. Sheinkin.] The Horn Book Magazine, 88(6), 127-128.  Retrieved from

Library Uses:

 Because of the less-than-interesting cover, this book would be a good candidate for a “Blind Date with a Book” display.  Cover the book, along with others, in colored paper; if desired color-code the books to depict their genre.  Then,  label the books with interesting words that draw the reader in:  for Bomb, use labels such as “Spies!”  “Bombs!” “Undercover Agents!”  Display along with several multi-colored books.


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