Reading the Competition

When I heard Steve Sheinkin wrote a book about the Manhattan Project, I felt a sharp pain in the pit of my stomach. Having read several other books by Mr. Sheinkin, I knew he was a master storyteller, a better one than I can ever hope to be. So it was with great trepidation that I read Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.  My book about the Manhattan Project, The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb, was published in 2007 by Holiday House.

My book was well-received but did not get the starred reviews or the unanimous praise of high-profile bloggers showered on Mr. Sheinkin’s book. That made me all the more apprehensive about reading it. My best review, from Kirkus, said: “The Manhattan Project is a complex subject for a book for young readers, but Sullivan does a fine job of relating the fascinating story in clear and lively prose. … Despite the complicated history, this book is completely compelling, a straightforward narrative told with a light touch. … [T]he solid writing, attractive design, abundant photographs, … make this the best work on the subject for young readers.” Would Sheinkin’s book render those words moot, eclipse my history into obsolescence? I had to find out.

I quickly discovered that all of my dread was for naught. To my surprise and great relief, I found Mr. Sheinkin’s approach to the subject is quite different from my own. His focus is on chronicling the acts of espionage and sabotage, which he does brilliantly in a suspenseful and fast-paced, almost breathless, narrative. My book does address those subjects but not to the great extent nor with quite the flair in Mr. Sheinkin’s. He brings readers a riveting story of saboteurs, spies, secret stealing, and daring commando raids.

What Mr. Sheinkin’s book does not chronicle in great detail is how the explosive fuels of the bombs were painstakingly manufactured in mass industrial complexes built from scratch for that singular purpose by a mostly civilian workforce of tens of thousands of people who lived for the duration of the war in secret cities. His book says little about the death and destruction wrought upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the bombs, and nothing about the intense debates behind the scenes among the scientists, and military and government leaders about whether or not the bombs should be used, and the many complex factors that led to President Truman’s final decision to use them.

I’m glad Mr. Sheinkin does not go into great detail about those aspects of the Manhattan Project because that’s what I do in my book, and that means I can look upon his excellent work as complementary rather than competition. I can tell people without reservation that they should read Mr. Sheinkin’s book along with mine, and perhaps he’ll consider doing the same for me.

Published in: on September 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm  Comments (1)