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Universe of Two

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,056 ratings  ·  316 reviews
From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption—a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published August 4th 2020 by William Morrow
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Mimi Brenda was just a fictional character. In the Acknowledgements section at the end of the book, the author writes that the real Charles Fisk was marrie…moreBrenda was just a fictional character. In the Acknowledgements section at the end of the book, the author writes that the real Charles Fisk was married twice and had two children. He also adds that the "Charlie Fish of this novel . . . is entirely imagined."(less)

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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  1,056 ratings  ·  316 reviews

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Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’ve wanted to read a book by Stephen P. Kiernan for years, and in fact, I’ve bought his other books due to the great reviews. I’m happy to say Universe of Two lived up to my expectations, and I’m even more excited about the other books.

What shines here most is the writing. In the 1940s, Charlie meets Brenda when he shops in her mother’s music store. Brenda is not interested in him, until he keeps coming to visit her.

Charlie, a brilliant mathematician, is working on the Manhattan Project, which
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
4 guilty conscience stars

It is fitting that I finished this book on August 6, 2020 – 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima. This historical fiction book is based on Charles Fisk, a mathematician who played a strategic role in creating the detonators for the atomic bombs.

This was a fascinating dive into history and the Manhattan Project. I didn’t realize that for many of the people involved the exact nature of what they were doing remained a mystery. The work they did was in i
Kate Baxter
4.5 / 5.0 stars

Universe of Two was an exquisitely rendered fictional account of the life of Charles B. Fisk (a man whom I met shortly after graduating from college). Charlie Fish, (the fictional name used in the story) had been tapped for the Manhattan Project shortly after graduating from Harvard with a degree in mathematics. Soon he was coerced into creating the detonator for the atomic bomb, the time during which he developed a crisis of conscience (as did many scientists on the project). The
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I won this ARC in a GR Giveaway. My thanks to GR, the publisher and the author, Stephen P. Kiernan, for giving me the opportunity to read and review this treasure of a book. All opinions are my own.

As I said previously, WOW! This one will stay with me for quite some time. I won't give too much away, but I found it quite fitting, and just a bit eerie, that I finished reading this book on 8/6, the anniversary (8/6/45) that the American bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped a 5-ton bomb on the city of Hir
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read all of Stephen Kiernan's books so I knew I was going to enjoy Universe of Two before I turned the first page. What I didn't realize was how deeply the book would affect me and that I'd still be thinking about it a week after I finished it. This is a beautifully written book about love and guilt and redemption.

The year is 1943 and Charlie meets Brenda when he comes into the music store that her mother owns and she works at. At first, she didn't think much of him. She was more interes
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There is so much in this gem, history, romance, philosophy, music, music, music. The music almost seemed a character. Not always an easy book to read.
There had to be an unbelievable amount of research to get this book to publication (again, the history, bomb building, the music).
As a former church organist, I understood the organ sections, especially the Bach Tocata and Fugue and playing "sick" instrument.
I kept waiting for the "other shoe to drop" since the story is told partially through the v
Stephanie Anze
Charlie Fish is a mathematician working in the University of Chicago when he gets recruited to work on a secret military project in New Mexico. Leaving behind Brenda, the girl he loves, he sets out to his new post, knowing only his destination but not much else. When assigned work, he is only given limited information about the whole project and is enouraged to "stick to his knitting". He does so but when he learns that the work he is doing clashes with his conscience, he turns to Brenda for adv ...more
Jo Ann
Sep 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5. Maybe 5. I loved this historical fiction book about Charlie Fish, the mathematician who worked on the detonator of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos. Unaware of what he's actually working on with the arcs, etc., until close to the assembly of the bomb, Charlie pursues his assignment with diligence, while he also pursues a girl from Chicago, Brenda, who will become his wife. This is both a lovely love story, and a tale of guilt and redemption, on both Charlie and Brenda's parts.The actual person ...more
Karen M
Parts of this book made me sad and parts were just plain wonderful. I really enjoyed reading this book.

This, I think, may be the first time I’ve read a book where one POV, Brenda, is written in the first person and the other POV, Charlie, is written in the third person. That change between first and third person worked very well in this story because Brenda is telling us about the past and Charlie is her past.

The author did such an incredible job in defining these two characters that I almost fe
Alison Smith
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I won this book in a giveaway and I really enjoyed reading it. The chapters alternate between the two protagonists’ perspective; Brenda is written in first person and Charlie in third person. I wondered about the reason for the change until the end of the book, when we realize that the entire story is Brenda’s to tell.

The heart of the narrative revolves around their budding romance as Charlie questions the moral and ethical repercussions of the atomic bomb. Charlie feels personally responsible f
Erika Robuck
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating from start to finish, UNIVERSE OF TWO is perfect blend of music, science, history, and humanity. Kiernan meticulously crafts a novel of breathtaking intensity at both the global and the intimate level. UNIVERSE OF TWO is a true illustration that while all might be fair in love and in war, it's what happens in the aftermath where one finds redemption. Highly recommended. ...more
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarything
This is a quite interesting novel very loosely based on the life of Charles Fisk, who worked on the design of the detonator for the atomic bomb in the 1940’s. I’m not usually fond of historical novels that include more fiction than fact but I did enjoy this one. There’s also the love story between Charles and Brenda, which I wasn’t that fond of. What I found most fascinating about this book was when it focused on Charles’ dawning realization of just what he was working on and what implications i ...more
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a beautiful story! When a fictional book is based on a real person it's sometimes hard for me to focus because I keep wondering how much of it is real and what was made up by the author. That wasn't the case for me with Universe of Two, because it's so sweet and romantic that it really sucks you in. You wouldn't expect a story about Project Y to work well as a love story but I thought it was wonderful. Do yourself a favor and listen to the music mentioned in this book as you read. All o ...more
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
Here is another where I say, Oh my heart! I smiled so much, this was such a wonderful love story - Brenda's style of telling the reader her love story with Charlie in retrospect was so incredibly heart-tugging great. There is also a deeper story inside too because of Charlie's involvement with the Manhattan Project and the consequences of war.

It was absolutely wonderful and I felt that way from the very first page.

I've been reading some fantastic books this summer with yet another 5-star one h
Aug 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Stephen Kieran does it again by inviting us into history through characters we may have heard of but now see them in a whole different way. Revolving around the Manhattan Project we are in Chicago surrounded by young men who are working on the mathematics which will change our world forever.
From Chicago to New Mexico we feel Charlie Fish's need to complete his job to the best of his ability and the guilt that follows. This is also a love story. Brenda and Charlie meet and she encourages him to
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
During WWII, Harvard graduate and mathematician Charlie Fish is tasked with creating the detonator for the atomic bomb, but once he realizes the true purpose of his invention, he's overcome with guilt. Will his sweetheart Brenda help him or hurt him during these trying times?

"We are all building the Gadget. And we will all be guilty of the crimes it commits."

I was so engrossed by this real and raw account of young love and didn't want to put it down. I'm not sure how the male author so accuratel
Patrick Barry
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This story is loosely based on one of the men who helped develop the triggering mechanism for the first atomic bomb. Charlie Fish, a mathematician, is recruited to work on a secret project in 1943. However, it is not his math skills but his recently acquired soldering skills that land him in Los Alomos at the nerve center of the development of the atomic bomb. He is tasked to develop a triggering mechanism that can create many simultaneous explosions. At first Charlie is in the dark about what h ...more
I honestly have no idea why I can’t get into this book.
I hate to stop a book before I finish it.
There’s not a thing wrong with this book.
I’m just over halfway through and I can’t get into it.
I think it’s the talk of Charlie’s job that doesn’t work for me.
I can tell everyone else who read this book loves it, but I’m around 200 pages in and I can’t stick with it.
I especially hate to do that with an early release. I always appreciate getting to read a book early and I don’t want an early review to
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing


This is one of the best books I read this year!

Where do I even begin? Do I talk about the beautiful love story between Brenda and Charlie? Or the nuances of guilt Charlie faces when he realizes the consequences of his work? How about the various physics references that indulged my geeky side? There are so many reasons why I loved this book in so many levels.

I love this author and HAVE to read his previous books. The way he de
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Stephen P. Kiernan really knows how to tell a good story, and on a variety of topics, which constantly impresses me because it’s (relatively) easy to keep telling basically the same story with different characters, varied locations, etc., but to go from a frozen man found in Antarctica, to a hospice nurse dealing with a patient and also a husband with PTSD, to a brave young woman in a small French village during WWII, to a mathematician working on a detonator for an atomic bomb - to be able to p ...more
Jonna Higgins-Freese
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I keep thinking about this book a week after having finished it in one weekend. The writing was so amazing; the story drew me in. And one of the things I keep thinking about is -- why was it so engaging when I could not for the life of me understand what Charlie ever saw in Brenda? Her frame for the story is that he helped her become less selfish and learn to love -- and maybe that did happen, I didn't find a convincing depiction of it, if it did -- but what he saw in her in the first place is p ...more
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What keeps you up at night?

This book did not grab me at first. I followed the characters and the story line but I wasn’t fully engaged. Then one night I woke in the middle of the night and found myself imagining what it must have felt like to be Charlie, to realize that you were a significant part of mass destruction, mass death. What might that do to a person? Charlie, with support from his wife, works it out enough to live with himself. Not without struggle. And we know so many others did not.
Learned a lot about the Manhattan Project, which I enjoyed. Learned more than I cared to about the intricacies of soldering electrical components for testing detonations. Would have liked to learn more about Fish/Fisk's life after working at Los Alamos. The synopsis mentions the prolonged mental anguish he experiences due to his complicity in the deaths of so many Japanese but only about 10% of the book covers this stage of his life. The other 90% covers the time he worked for the government on ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
Samantha Fink

This is unlike any other world war 2 book you'll ever read. It was so unique in the way it presented people involved in the war. I loved how involved I became with the characters and how much I felt for them. Their highs and lows, I felt it all.

"Universe of Two" is a love story, and a beautiful one at that. It was done in such a realistic and romantic way. Nothing felt forced or rushed. The relationship between Charlie and Brenda was so genuine. I saw how t
Mar 12, 2020 rated it liked it
I received an advance copy of this book from Harper Collins by way of the The Book Club Girls & NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

It's a tense time in the United States, World War II rages on overseas with family members separated by the conflict. Charlie Fish, recently from Harvard University, finds himself working on increasingly vague & secret math problems in Chicago where he meets musician Brenda Dubie. Their courtship rides the waves of the war & Charlie's work until he is suddenly sent t
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan is an amazing historical fiction that is placed mainly during the latter years of WWII in the US and beings to light a lot of the backstory in regards to the Manhattan Project: the creation, testing, and eventual use of the atomic bomb. This book, to me, is really two stories interweaving into one gorgeous novel.

We are introduced to Brenda and Charlie and get to dive into their respective lives and viewpoints in alternating chapters. Through Charlie, we are
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: william-morrow
This book took me completely by surprise. I really liked Kiernan’s earlier book “The Baker’s Secret” so felt comfortably sure that I would enjoy this one. But I never imagined that a book, inspired by the life of the man that developed the detonator for the atom bomb, would, or even could, contain such beautiful writing and feelings of such tenderness. My heart really felt as though it would break for Charlie as he struggled with his consciousness for creating a device – the Gadget - that took s ...more
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am not a huge fan of historical fiction but I fell in love with this love story! Universe of Two tells the story of Charles Fish and his part in developing the atomic bomb. As the story begins you meet Brenda Dubie, a girl who becomes the love of Fish's life. Brenda helps run the family music store while her father and brother are away at war. Charles frequents the store and their love story begins. Charles is taken away to New Mexico to help in the war efforts at home. Their love story remind ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brenda and Charlie meet in Brenda's family music store.
Charlie, who would graduate from Harvard if he had remained in school at the age of 18, was employed in a math project in the Fall of 1943.
Brenda has a view of herself as a superior person.
Charlie, who is mild mannered, is working for the US Government, but he does not understand what he is doing.
Charlie ends up going to Los Alamos.
Brenda gets a job as an organist in the town near Los Alamos.
This is a story of two people coming of age during
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Stephen P. Kiernan's new novel, UNIVERSE OF TWO, comes out August 4.

This novel is a love story set in 1944, amid the development of the atomic bomb. Charlie is a young math whiz drafted into the Manhattan Project, where his tasks require him to ignore his moral qualms. His sweetheart Brenda, prohibited for security reasons from knowing what he's doing, sees these ethical hesitations as weakness,

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“I have paid attention, and learned one thing in this life: Whatever you love, no matter how fiercely, you will lose it one day. That is the only certainty. Therefore be as kind as you can. Don’t fear your mistakes, as long as you learn humility from them. There is no such thing as perfect pitch.” 1 likes
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