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Stealing Thunder [Paperback]

Peter Millar
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

20 Oct 1999
Set in 1945 and the present day, this novel provides an evocation of the race to build the atom bomb with an account of a conspiracy turned sour. The book blends fact and the speculations of history so the reader is left wondering whether it really happened.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (20 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747545839
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747545835
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,143,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Millar was born in Northern Ireland and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read French and Russian. He worked for Reuters news agency as the sole non-German correspondent in East Berlin in the early 1980s, also covering the Solidarity movement in Poland before moving to Warsaw, where he pressed the button to tell the world of the election of Mikhail Gorbachev, a defining moment in Soviet history.

In 1985 he joined the Sunday Telegraph in the newly created role as Central Europe Correspondent - a title he invented to anticipate the dramatic changes about to overtake the continent - before moving to The Sunday Times, in early 1989, just in time to catch the climactic final stages of The Cold War. Millar was seized by the Volkspolizei on the streets of East Berlin during the demonstrations which accompanied Gorbachev's visit in October, interrogated by the Stasi and expelled from the country. Nonetheless he managed to get back by November 9, the dramatic night the Berlin Wall came down.

These events form the background to his 2009 autobiographical book: 1989, The Berlin Wall (My Part in its Downfall), a title he freely admits much to the late Spike Milligan. He is a firm believer that there is humour (if occasionally dark) behind even the greatest historical events.

In the 1990s Millar worked briefly with Robert Maxwell, as deputy editor of his ill-fated newspaper The European, a role he has since described as "like being aide-de-camp to Stalin."

For the past decade Millar has concentrated on books, with two thrillers to his name and a third - The Black Madona - due out in the autumn of 2010. He is also author of All Gone to Look for America, a travel book reflecting his love of trains, history and good beer, crisscrossing the United States in a 10,000 mile journey on the now little used railways that were instrumental in turning most of a continent into a single nation.

He is married with two grown-up sons, divides his time between the north Oxfordshire brewing village of Hook Norton and South London where he can often be found (often in a state of chronic despair and with fingernails chewed to the bone) following the vicissitudes inflicted by fate on his beloved Charlton Athletic.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Described (by Robert Harris) as an "expert blend of nuclear history and international intrigue", Peter Millar's Stealing Thunder is a complex work of fiction which deftly weaves two narratives together. The first, "The Legacy", reconstructs the scene--both heroic and murderous--of the Manhatten Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1944-45: the discovery of the atom bomb which, as Millar notes at the beginning of the book, "for better or worse, shaped the rest of the 20th century". Stealing Thunder is keyed into that ambivalence--"The men who were afraid put on suntan lotion in the dark"--exploring the political and ethical dilemmas of the scientists charged with changing the history of war and weaponry. That dilemma is also the starting point for the novel's contemporary narrative: Eamonn Burke, freelance correspondent-- "Burke was good, the word on the street went, bloody good, in fact"--drawn into investigating the death of Klaus Fuchs (a key player at Los Alamos, and "the bloke who stole the secret of the atom bomb") by an East German reporter, Sabine Kotzke. The (predictable) sexual charge between Burke and Kotzke accompanies the investigative plot which, drawing its protagonists into a world of intrigue and murder, uncovers the history of Los Alamos. --Vicky Lebeau --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Author

What it's really about:
"Stealing Thunder is a piece of fiction, but it is based substantially on fact. After nearly two decades working as a reporter in Russia, Germany and eastern Europe, I know only too well that fact and fiction are not as distinct from one another as we would like to think. The truth is rarely what we are told. This book is not set during the Cold War, but at its beginning and end. That period in which the world was at loggerheads with itself, like two grandmasters hunched over a chessboard - only with life and death in the balance - is central to its theme. Was it inevitable? Were there alternatives? And would they have been better or worse? Almost all of the characters, from the real spy Klaus Fuchs fifty years ago to the fictional journalist Eamonn Burke today, are caught in a web of their own making: flies who mistake themselves for spiders. It is a web in which the seemingly opposing strands of trust and betrayal, good intentions and evil outcome are revealed as threads of the same fabric. Stealing Thunder deals with truth and lies, and the grey area in between where most of us live: the cusp of history and imagination. It is also, I would like to think, an entertaining read. I hope you agree." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the way it might have been! 8 Feb 2001
By A Customer
I bought this after reading Peter Millar's second novel Bleak Midwinter, and really enjoyed it. I didn't know much about the Manhattan Project and the first atomic bomb but I really feel I do now. Millar's involvement of Einstein and the spy Klaus Fuchs may not be the way the history books have it, but it came across good enough to me.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 11 Dec 1999
By Martin Stein - Published on
This is a very well researched book with lots of little sub stories tugged in. I liked that the characters were multi-dimensional: no bad guy to kill so that the good can prevail. Being German it was interesting to read how people from other countries might see you. Defininetively not the stuff for hollywood although this could make a great movie. The story takes you from London to New Mexico, Moscow, Iceland and Bavaria. I liked the place descriptions and the feelings of the characters come across very good. Get it!
5.0 out of 5 stars The Nuclear Dance 26 Mar 2000
By Brian Mcmaster - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Never mind the millennium. The 1999-2000 season is also the 50th anniversary of the arrest of Klaus Fuchs, the German born Los Alamos physicist who passed on critical pieces of information about the atomic bomb design to the Russians, and apparently single-handedly created the cold war's balance of terror. I say apparently because that has been the official view since 1950. What Peter Millar suggests in Stealing Thunder is that it may not have been so single-handed. Peter Millar writes with the journalist's eye for detail and much of the fun in this book comes from the incidental observations on history and biography and culture that bring these eerie events into focus. For instance the book opens with the Los Alamos scientists and ground crew positioning themselves around ground zero, some taking Edward Teller's suggestion and lathering up with sun tan lotion in preparation for the brightest man-made light that any of them would ever see. If the event were held today in the same spot it is easy to imagine a circle of Winnebagos and lawn chairs, their occupants spreading on the number 50 sunscreen, ready for a good view of the apocalypse. Such is our inability to understand orders of magnitude. Millar spins a very credible yarn, weaving together detail with speculation to produce a cloth which is both fiction and nonfiction. The story proceeds from the ficitonal present to the known past in a series of flashbacks as Millar's alter ego, journalist Eammonn Burke and his cohort and love interest, Sabine Kotzke uncover the layers of truth surrounding Klaus Fuchs. Funded by a lot of German Marks and pursued by a sniper, Eammonn and Sabine follow up on leads provided by an enigmatic diary produced by Fuchs in the last years of his life before a mysterious death. Had he been murdered by East Germany's secret police, the Stasi? If so, why? Even a decade after the Los Alamos project did he still know too much? If so, what? The trail leads from London to Los Alamos to Moscow to Iceland to Bavaria down sleazy back alleys with which Millar seems genuinely familiar. He sets the scene with an economy of description. His snapshot image of Moscow, for instance, is a capitol that smells of warm, wet dog. Having visited Moscow some years ago and worn the winter headgear I was amused to discover that was also my lasting impression of the place. On the down side, the fictional drama of Eammonn and Sabine taking place in the foreground of the present at times seems to overwhelm the real historic drama going on in the background. That, however, may be the bias of a reader who prefers history to Hollywood. These days most of us get our history from dramatized accounts, and when Millar is filling in the gaps in the historical record he is at his best. Who knows what Niels Bohr or Robert Oppenheimer might have said to Klaus Fuchs, sounding him out on his views about the deadly knot that was being tied by a handful of men, but Millar makes the conversation seem quite plausible. Plausible also is Klaus Fuchs baffled German reaction to Oppenheimer's emergence from a window seat coffin at the end of a Los Alamos production of Arsenic and Old Lace. In fact, it is Millar's understanding of the comic subtleties (or lack thereof) in the German mind, that makes his portraits of the historic Fuchs and the fictional Sabine so believable. In some ways Peter Millar's Stealing Thunder is like Oliver Stone's JFK in that it attempts to do too much, to weave together all the known evidence into a blanket conspiracy. But for those who enjoy hearing the evidence and are comfortable with drawing their own conclusions, it may be the perfect format. Don't be surprised then if Millar has you looking at the 1947 Roswell UFO incident from an entirely new perspective. As India and Pakistan begin the nuclear dance that has so preoccupied Russia and the West for fifty years, it is an excellent time to read up on how it all got started and Peter Millar's book Stealing Thunder is an excellent place to start.
5.0 out of 5 stars A great page turner.... 17 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Los Alamos is back in the news at the centre of the latest Chinese spying scandal. Peter Millar, with a ready eye to a good story, exploits our fascination with the race to build the bomb in this cleverly plotted novel . He expertly links the postwar Fuchs atom bomb spy ring at Los Alamos with today's nuclear proliferation in Russia and Germany. The author, a noted British foreign correspondent, expertly weaves a gripping story that brings alive both the past and the present. I hope this is the first of many such novels by Millar, who is a welcome newcomer to the ranks of British thriller writers _following very much in the footsteps of Frederick Forsyth and Gerald Seymour.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting premise, slack writing 21 Jan 2002
By Martin Kannengieser - Published on
Stealing Thunder is a book with a very clever underlying plot. It is based on a number of interesting historical incidents that it ties together to create an interesting conclusion. It has the perfect plot for this type of historical thriller.
The problem that this thriller shares with most books of its genre is that its characters are cardboard and we really don't care about them. The historical sections about Klaus Fuchs, the historical Anglo-German atomic bomb spy, are actually quite interesting and helped this reader to understand what was behind his betrayal of the Allies. The modern sections based on an Anglo-American investigative reporter hired by an attractive German reporter were not very interesting. The action was as tepid as the romance. The fictional characters did not seem real and did not interest me. It would have been a much stronger book if it had just been a historical fiction about Klaus Fuchs, but unfortunately it wasn't. Richard Harris, author of Fatherland and Enigma, does the same sort of thing much more effectively.
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