I read this book a few summers ago, and I couldn't put it down. O'Neill's exhaustive research--including many personal interviews--helps solidify this book's place in the pantheon of great historical non-fiction of the 20th century. "The Firecracker Boys" picks up after World War II when the United States government, eager to find peaceful uses for nuclear power, proposed building a harbor near the remote Alaskan village of Point Hope using megaton nuclear explosions in a plan called "Project Chariot." The ambitious plan, which supporters felt could redeem nuclear weapons before the very eyes of a generation who saw its horrific power demonstrated on Japan, met fierce resistance among biologists, anthropologists, and most importantly local Alaska Native villagers of the region. These opponents feared radiation, debris fallout, and that the government continued to deny or downplay dangers of Project Chariot. O'Neill charts, in beautiful detail, the high-minded idealism of Project Chariot supporters against the burgeoning grassroots resistance which demanded fair recognition of Project Chariot's irreversible damage.
While Project Chariot first arrived, and met its doom, in a remote quarter of the globe, this story is firmly fixed on the world stage. This is not the anecdotal story of a failed gimmick; rather, this is the genesis of the movement towards limiting nuclear power, recognizing environmental impact, and treating Alaska Natives as more than haphazard bystanders to industrial progress. People, personalities, subplots, and larger impacts for the whole of humanity enliven this story and give Project Chariot a rich context. I whole-heartedly recommend this book.