Wendy's Reviews > Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
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's review
Oct 23, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012-award-possibilities, wwii, newbery-honor, sibert-winners-and-honors
Read in October, 2012

This book is probably the greatest disappointment of the year to me. Because up until page 227, it was a five star book. I was ready to proclaim it the book of the year, the clear Newbery choice, a must-read.

But the epilogue--it's bad.

It would probably be going too far to say that it's actually poorly written. In comparison to most of the books that I've read this year, it's probably still in the top half. But the contrast between the epilogue and the rest of the book is so stark--and it leaves such a bad taste in my mouth because it's at the end--that the impact on me as a reader is great.

I don't know why Sheinkin decided to write the epilogue in more casual language than the rest of the book. I don't know why he suddenly started speaking to the reader instead of letting the book speak. I don't know why the editor let that pass (or maybe it was the editor's idea, who knows). But it very effectively dampened my enthusiasm for the book. The last page is particularly egregious. I really don't think young readers need a lecture about how scary nuclear warfare is. Not after reading the rest of the book.

Is this still the best book of the year? Sigh--yes. Probably. Sure. --is what I'm saying now instead of the "YES! YES!" I was saying eleven pages earlier.

I'll say the other things I was planning to say, too, also without the eagerness and excitement I was feeling. This is a great and fascinating accompaniment not only to THE GREEN GLASS SEA, but also to CODE NAME VERITY. It is so intense that I had to stop reading it sometimes and do something else. The author sets up and resolves many exciting plots on his way to the end of the big plot thread, and it's very effective. He uses suspenseful chapter and section endings effectively without making me feel manipulated, just fascinated.

Maybe, eventually, I will be able to put the epilogue in perspective. You'll notice I only downgraded it by one star. But, as I said: a great disappointment.
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Quotes Wendy Liked

Steve Sheinkin
“Here at great expense,' [Colonel Groves] moaned to Oppenheimer, 'the government has assembled the world's largest collection of crackpots.”
Steve Sheinkin, Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Mark Flowers I've got a copy of the book in front of me, and I have to say I'm kind of perplexed. I don't at all agree that he is writing in "more casual language" in the epilogue as a whole - only that very last page and a half. Until then, he is just summing up what happened to the main participants, in the same style he's used throughout. Now, I happen to agree with you that the last 1.5 pages are not great, maybe not even good, but in a book that so tremendously amazing for 234 pages, and especially since those last 1.5 pages don't actually affect anything about the rest of the book, I can't see why they merit a whole star being docked, and such disappointment.

message 2: by Wendy (last edited Oct 25, 2012 10:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Wendy Hi, Mark, I didn't get a notification of this comment. Of course we're talking about this over on Heavy Medal, but here I get to be as nitpicky as I want. The first thing that made me sit up and say "Hey, what?" is on page 228. "Here's where the huge mistake made five years before by the KGB came back to bite them." Both the contraction and the somewhat tired metaphor didn't seem to fit with the rest of the book.

In the next paragraph, he writes "That's exactly what happened." When did Sheinkin start telling us things instead of showing them? Again on page 231, "That's where he got in trouble." And so on, sprinkled throughout the epilogue.

In general, as you may have noticed, I have a particular beef against "author's notes" in historical fiction. I don't have the same blanket problem with author's notes in non-fiction, where I think sometimes they're necessary or can add a lot to the book, such as in They Called Themselves the KKK. And this isn't, for the most part, an "author's note" anyway. I wouldn't have objected to this epilogue on general principles, and I agree with you about the strength and interest of the section on Ted Hall. But with the change in style, and as you note, the last couple of pages, this did start to hit my "I hate author's notes" problem. If you're familiar with the idea of "mansplaining" (and that isn't a term I ordinarily use, because I find it kind of reductionist and sexist), I think most author's notes are sort of "authorsplaining"--"this is what you should think about the book! this is why I wrote the book! this is why this book is important to me!". It's unnecessary at best, and damages the impact of the book at worst (well, really it can be worse than that, but those are special cases).

I'm particularly sensitive to the way books end in a way not everyone is. (And I have a particular loathing to being told what to do or what to think that made school a pretty unhappy place for me.) We agree about the weakness of the end of the epilogue so I won't go into that, but will still say: what if the last line of the book had been "If confronted with the same problem today," Hall acknowledged, "I would respond quite differently."? Now, that is what would make chills go down MY spine. That would be an interesting, sort of open-ended way to end the book for me. Or if there had been no epilogue--if the section about Ted Hall that both of us like had been worked in to the last chapter--the last line of the book might have been, referring to Harry Gold, "He had a few minutes to destroy seventeen years of evidence." That brings us back around so elegantly to the beginning of the book.

Have you read The Green Glass Sea? The reading I did after I finished that, about Ted Hall and the others, totally blew my mind in a significant way. I was sort of disappointed that Sheinkin didn't go as far as I might have wanted in exploring whether Ted Hall was actually sort of noble, but regard that as a perfectly reasonable/acceptable authorial choice. Anyway, he knows a hell of a lot more about it than I do.

Mark Flowers I agree - that line would have been the perfect ending. I didn't know we would be talking about this book so soon on Heavy Medal or I wouldn't have responded so rapidly over here - of course I agree you can be as nitpicky as you want to on goodreads. And yes, I am not as sensitive to endings as you are. (in fact, to my minor embarrassment, because of the pace at which I read most books, by the time I get to endings, I often am reading so fast - even skimming - that I don't even recall what the last few pages said).

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