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America's Children Paperback – 1 Nov 2003
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A richly textured historical novel centered around the father of the American nuclear weapons program chronicles the life and times of J. Robert Oppenheimer during this remarkable chapter in American history. By the author of The Book of Kings. Reprint.
About the Author
James Thackara was born in California and educated in Buenos Aires, Provence, California, Rome, Switzerland, and New England, graduating from Harvard in 1967. He is the author of three novels: America's Children, Ahab's Daughter, and The Book of Kings.
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Author James Thackara has taken the last great story of the 20th century, the development of the Atomic Bomb, and recast it as myth. "America's Children," comes alive with the struggle between good and evil that lays at the reason for the Atomic Bomb's creation, use, and aftermath of science, violence, and industry that has resulted in a stockpile of bombs magnitudes more powerful than the first.
The scientists thought they were fighting the good fight. The US had to beat Hitler to the atomic goods, and under Oppenheimer's direction the brilliant boys of Los Alamos did just that. Though the bomb came too late to win the war with Germany, and was of questionable value in ending the war with Japan, it was dropped anyway. Its power was kept from the American public, but Oppenheimer knew what he had wrought, and though he was horrified, he had discovered the true nature of his creation, and we discover the true nature of the creators, at Trinity, the testing site. No one knew what would happen once this bomb exploded. Would it blow a hole into Alamagordo, take out Albuquerque, or rend nature and destroy the earth? As it was, it was the greatest explosion ever created, and the test was the greatest gamble science had ever taken, and its jackpot is a world under constant threat. Mr. Thackara, gives us a creator undone by his creation, and asks all the right questions about the morality of "pure" science, and of waging peace through the threat, and use of violence.
As has been written about Mr. Thackara's magnum opus, "The Book of Kings," there is a smaller book that could have been released from the 300 plus pages of "America's Children," but even as it is there are ideas, and excellent pieces, (the test at Trinity, Oppenheimer's security hearing, the machinations of Dr. Teller) that make "America's Children" well worth reading.
James Thackara follows the rise and fall of "Oppie" in a well written and historically accurate manner. His grasp of the science is not very good but that is not the main issue. It came down to whether Oppie was a spy or a well-intentioned, yet naive, moralist. In the hysteria of Washington in the 50's the politicians and military thought the former; Oppie's scientific colleagues for the most part thought the latter. A notable exception was Edward Teller who was hell-bent on developing the "Super", the thermonuclear bomb, against Oppie's advice. At the security hearing in the 50's Teller spoke out against his critic.
This book addresses important moral issues in the same admirable way as the author's "The Book of Kings". These issues are still relevant to the 21st century. The book is highly recommended to the serious reader of "fiction" whose underlying facts are real.