Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin


Sheinkin, Steve.  Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal –  the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

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Reader’s Annotation:

The true story of cutting edge technology, espionage, military commandos, ruthless dictators, and the world’s most dangerous weapon.


Written as a spy-thriller, Bomb opens with the moments before Harry Gold is caught in his own home with evidence that he has been involved in the spy game for 17 years.  What enfolds is the enthralling story of how the atomic bomb came to be.  From the minds and labs of scientists, to the spies who sought their secrets, to the commandos sent to destroy enemy progress in the nuclear arms race, and all the political environment that created and supported these tumultuous times.  Key figures in the story include Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, Eugene Wigner, Leo Szilard, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Knut Haukelid, Leslie Groves, Enrico Fermi, Jens Poulsson, Robert Serber, Harry Truman, Dorothy McKibben, Richard Feynman, Moe Berg, and Paul Tibbets.


This is the kind of nonfiction that would engage younger readers (any readers for that matter).  The narrative style of this book read more like a spy novel or Cold War thriller than dry nonfiction texts that turn readers off of nonfiction.  Facts were told in narrative stories about the characters, anecdotes that were linked together to create the overall picture of the duplicitous race to perfect the atom bomb.  The sub and parallel plots make this read slightly more complex.  Each part of the book was set up to look like a case file, complete with black and white photographs of key people with type written text “paper clipped” to them.  The language used was contemporary and accessible for readers.  The pacing of the book was fast enough to keep readers engaged and the writing suspenseful enough to keep readers turning the page to find out more.  Thematically, readers are encouraged to consider the state of affairs and implications of technology and weapons and the climate (like ours today) where they may come from and be used in.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  non-fiction, history, popular history, narrative history

Appeal Factors:  war, weapons, espionage

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos by Jennet Conant
  • American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird
  • The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb by Edward T. Sullivan

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newbery Honor Book
  • National Book Awards – Finalist
  • Robert F. Sibert Award
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The scene of the “chain reaction” success of splitting the atom
  • The Norwegian raid on the Vemork plant
  • When Lona Cohen was almost caught on the train by the FBI agents

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the story end the same way it began?
  • Do you think that the Americans who spied for the Soviet Union gave legitimate responses as to why they spied?
  • What elements of the way the story was told or the way the book was written or organized made it seem more like a spy thriller than a nonfiction text?

Why I Chose This:

The title of this book was what hooked me into choosing it for this database.  It received high praise for being different from other nonfiction texts, even from adult readers.  Besides the race for technology to create the atom bomb, the element of “stealing” and spying to get the technology sounded interesting to me.  I was also interested in learning more about this topic.