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The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  203 ratings  ·  36 reviews
In 1958, Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, unveiled his plan to detonate six nuclear bombs off the Alaskan coast to create a new harbor. However, the plan was blocked by a handful of Eskimos and biologists who succeeded in preventing massive nuclear devastation potentially far greater than that of the Chernobyl blast. The Firecracker Boys is a story of the U.S. governme ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published November 6th 2007 by Basic Books (first published July 1994)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Start your review of The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement
Fascinating, important, at times very tedious, but ultimately a hell of a read in 2018, paralleling the DOI's current push to develop every inch of Arctic Alaska for oil, despite public opinion.
On my recent (and only) trip to Alaska, a friend took us to a wonderful play about the history of Alaska as seen through Inuit eyes. The play transformed my entire view of Alaska and the Arctic and gave me an exciting new approach to our entire trip. This book continues that experience. It tells the story of the United States’ AEC attempt to use Alaska as a testing ground for nuclear weapons. It tells the story of how we (as a people, as a nation) have not been able to see the world except throu ...more
Daniel Cornwall
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An easy read that is well documented! The story of how Edward Teller and the Atomic Energy Commission tried to con Alaskans into accepting nuclear explosions on their soil was solidly researched and well footnoted.

And "con" is really the only word for it. Mr. O'Neill clearly jumps from public speeches to private archives to document how most of the nuclear enthusiasts were promoting a false picture. In one case Edward Teller tells some Alaskan businessmen that the AEC could easily carve a harbo
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
While the book was, at times, repetitive, at other times it was simply amazing. The author brought to life the fact that in the 1960s American scientists might have detonated multiple nuclear warheads in Bush Alaska basically to just see what happened. The fact that they didn't have a real purpose, other than to see what happened, permission to be on the land, or a conscious about the people/animals/environment that they would have irreparably harmed didn't seem to cross their minds. The author ...more
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
Living in Alaska, by the time I started to show interest about "The Firecracker Boys", a lot of the people I know had already read it. Most of them said that it was very interesting, but also dry. Iagree only partially with this statement. The story about American scientists wanting to blow up a hole (supposedly to make a harbor) on the coast of Alaska using nuclear bombs sounds almost taken out of a bad sci-fi story. So, knowing that this almost happened, and all the institutional lies that acc ...more
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A relatively easy read for a potentially dense subject, this book delivers a well-researched account of a domestic nuclear project that is sadly under-reported. It was at times shocking to read about what government scientists thought was a reasonable plan to use nuclear excavation in Alaska in the 1960s.
Danielle Brown-Farrell
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: alaskana
If you are interested in Environmental issues, the Cold War, or just want to read a book of great about a non-publicized significant part of Alaska history this is the book for you. Fantastic read that shouldn't be missed.
Susan Halvor
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot.
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Its earth-shattering that these atomic scientists agreed to fund a study of the environment and its use by humans for the purposes of planning the excavation of a harbor using buried nuclear bombs. The fact that no one needed a harbor in the seasonally ice-clogged waters above the Artic Circle did not stop them. The fact that detonating atomic bombs practically within sight of Russia during the Cold War did not faze them. The fact that they got university administrators to pressure, fire, and bl ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In the 1961 Atomic Energy Commission led by Edward Teller wanted to use a nuclear bomb to create a harbor not far from Point Hope, Alaska. The University of Alaska fired scientists whose research pointed to the risk to people and the environment.

O'Neill presents a shocking and comprehensive history of this episode: a good case study of how the promise of big federal spending beguiles - Alaska's biggest newspapers and the university failed to train a critical eye on this insane venture. Book als
Jen Stutesman
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
WOW, what an amazing book. And an outstanding piece of journalism AND oral history research. This is a part of Alaska history that I had never heard. I also enjoyed reading about the University of Alaska history that I did not know. Even though this book came out in 1994, some of the people mentioned in the very weighty Acknowledgements WERE STILL THERE in 2007 when I arrived to be a manager librarian at Rasmuson Library.

To sum up, if you're at all interested in nuclear science, biology, wildli
Peter Stewart
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly well researched, very easy to read, great way to learn a bit more about the mentality of nuclear testing in the moment... highly recommend. It's more than just the story of Edward Teller, in fact he's an important, but not necessarily central to the plot, because it more follows the community resistance efforts of a few key players (UA Fairbanks researchers contracted by the AEC to gather environmental data... a few members from the local community in question: Point Hope... a few out ...more
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Amazing description of the firecracker mentality of the department of energy, formally the atomic energy commission, and the historical lunacy of detonating bombs to create a harbor in remote Point Hope area in alaska. Men wanting freedom to blow up and contaminate, the lies they will tell, and the corruption behind it all. Sound familiar?
Apr 18, 2020 rated it liked it
The story of Project Chariot is an extremely interesting one, and Dan O'Neill did the world a service by capturing so much of it and its influence on the environmental movement. That being said, it can jump around timelines a bit in order to stay on a specific subject, but which can make it a little hard to follow. If you have interest in nuclear testing and Alaska its worth a read.
Matthew Brehm
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book on nuclear proliferation and scientific advancement into the political realm. This book covers a great deal of Alaskan statehood history, Inupiat Eskimo history, and US environmentalism and philosophy history.
Incredibly well-researched account of the origins of the US environmental movement, as well as an important history of a chapter in the country's "atomic era." Very informative (to the point of being dense, but I'm also not generally one for non-fiction).
Sarah Bushman
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend! It was more than I expected-a great history of the ‘little guy’ triumphing over the government and defense types of the 1950s, yes, but also an exploration of the early environmental movement, the ethics of science versus the arms industry, and the insidious nature of racism.
Steve Nelson
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A story about what can happen with the unchecked arrogance of government. The most unfortunate part of the story is that it is all true.
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Expertly written, meticulously researched. Even the research methodology, described in the epilogue, is not to be missed.
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-books-read
Great book and very germane in today's political and scientific world. Lived in Alaska for nearly 40 years and had only heard parts and rumors about this project. This book needs to be a movie.
Dominick Lemas
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: alaska, environmental
In 1956 the Suez Canal was nationalized which prompted the British and French to attach Egypt in order to secure the strategic passage. Although the conflict was ultimately settled by the United Nations, transportation through this region was halted for many months and the industrialized economies needed an alternative transportation route. During this same period the US and the Soviet Union were testing nuclear bombs and international community was requesting nuclear test-bans. Until reading th ...more
Feb 16, 2009 rated it liked it
I was shocked to find out that there are actually people who are so casual about nuclear radiation. The people portrayed working for the AEC seem to have no humanity - to be so caught up in advancing their agenda that they have lost all scruples. I imagine secret police from repressive regimes having the same level of concern for human beings.

I really got interested in the book about half way through. The first part was not that easy for me to read. Reading the methods at the end of the book, it
Yvonne Leutwyler
Apr 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
The book contains a lot of information, more than I wanted to absorb sometime, but I think it is an important example of how an entity gets carried away with excitement about something that goes completely against common sense. It also serves as a demonstration on how organizations (governmental or private - see Pebble Partnership) have the nerve of lying into the face of the people about environmental and health hazards, some even before they have been reasonably evaluated. Consequently, once t ...more
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A gift from my externship host after I left AK
Dec 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This amazing book is astonishingly researched, well-documented, and still a page-turning story. It can be dry, but moreover is revealing in the way the government, especially the Atomic Energy Commission, is as transparent as a pile of rock. Don't be put off by the length of this book, at 427 pages; the actual story is a mere 291 pages. The rest of the book is incredibly detailed Epilogue (which I found at times more fascinating than the "book" itself), Afterword, Methodology, Acknowledgments, N ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book, which I highly recommend for all Alaskans. Lots of info about Alaskan history and about the development of nuclear weapons/energy in the US. Explores themes of environmentalism, journalistic and scientific ethics, dissembling governmental officials, and academic freedom. Gives lots to think about in our current day and age.

It's much more readable than I thought it would be--a little slow and repetitive at times but not hard to push through. I do wish the book had talked more
David A.
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I highly, highly recommend this book; extremely well researched and well written. Though the writing style is as even-handed and moderate as it comes, the weight of the evidence shows an Atomic Energy Commission that threw scientific rigor to the winds in trying to push its own testing agenda, and a political and higher-ed establishment that happily went along on this dangerous and damaging ride, Yee-hawing all the way like Major Kong riding the back of his bomb in Dr. Strangelove. But O'Neill a ...more
Amy Flaherty Gorn
This took me forever to read but I stuck through it for two main reasons
1) I met the author and he signed my copy so I wanted to complete it before putting back on the shelf
2) I hoped I would encounter more Point Hope content in regards to the Inupiaq's role in stopping Project Chariot.

I rarely received enough of this angle to be satisfied. Shoot. I am aware of more about nuclear technology and nuclear "politics" than I ever thought possible. It was impressive to realize Alaska's role and import
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was a real eye-opener for me, as I had no idea that there was such a strong push to use nuclear blasts for such peace-time efforts as creating a new harbor or making a new Panama Canal. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING???? The strength of this book was the section of that explored the Natives initial response to the blast that was going to be in their favored hunting area; by the end of the book the author's focus seemed to get fuzzy--probably (maybe the info coming out of the AEC was so fuzzy! ...more
aksnowbunny Proden
Nov 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: alaskana
this was a great book and a true eye opener of how untruthful our government has been in the past( as we are all very aware of) and what has been destroyed from nuclear waste in the name of peace. And here I thought eating strictly game meat up here in alaska would be so healthy, only to find out, there is a chance I am also eating nuclear waste chemicals in my meat. ug. a fascinating history of not only alaska, but of the cold war itself. a must read!
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