Apr 18, 2011

Garth's Picks for May

For our reading pleasure in May, Garth has proffered some very interesting reads:  all serious and weighty--just like his personality--and all designed to help us explore our views on the role of nuclear technology in today's world.

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (721 pages)
Winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize (Biography)

J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, a brilliant physicist who led the effort to build the atomic bomb for his country in a time of war, and who later found himself confronting the moral consequences of scientific progress. In this magisterial, acclaimed biography twenty-five years in the making, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin capture Oppenheimer's life and times, from his early career to his central role in the Cold War. This is biography and history at its finest, riveting and deeply informative. (Publisher’s Synopsis)

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (592 pages)
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize (Non-Fiction)

In the first full account of how the arms race finally ended, The Dead Hand provides an unprecedented look at the inner motives and secret decisions of each side. Drawing on top-secret documents from deep inside the Kremlin, memoirs, and interviews in both Russia and the United States, David Hoffman introduces the scientists, soldiers, diplomats, and spies who saw the world sliding toward disaster and tells the gripping story of how Reagan, Gorbachev, and many others struggled to bring the madness to an end. When the Soviet Union dissolved, the danger continued, and the United States began a race against time to keep nuclear and biological weapons out of the hands of terrorists and and rogue states. (Publisher’s Synopsis)

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Aleksievich (256 pages)
Winner of the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award (Non-Fiction)

A chorus of fatalism, stoic bravery and black, black humor is sounded in this haunting oral history of the 1986 nuclear reactor catastrophe in what is now northeastern Ukraine. Russian journalist Alexievich records a wide array of voices: a woman who clings to her irradiated, dying husband though nurses warn her 'that's not a person anymore, that's a nuclear reactor'; a hunter dispatched to evacuated villages to exterminate the household pets; soldiers sent in to clean up the mess, bitter at the callous, incompetent Soviet authorities who 'flung us there, like sand on the reactor,' but accepting their lot as a test of manhood; an idealistic nuclear engineer whose faith in communism is shattered. Alexievich shapes these testimonies into novelistic 'monologues' that convey a vivid portrait of late-Communist malaise, in which bullying party bosses, paranoid propaganda and chaotic mobilizations are resisted with bleak sarcasm ('It wasn't milk, it was a radioactive byproduct'), mournful philosophizing ('the mechanism of evil will work under conditions of apocalypse') and lots of vodka. The result is an indelible X-ray of the Russian soul. (Publishers Weekly)


  1. Well this will be easy. Only the last choice meets our criteria. Sorry Garth, but after “Freedom” I need to be set free!!! Andrew, can you bring a second option, and I’ll bring a third? I think we need to go back to a strict reading of our book club charter. Otherwise we might find “War and Peace” on our bedside tables!! Lol

  2. Well, if you read far enough into "Freedom" you might have found that "War and Peace" was already on your bedside table. This is a reading club, right? Let's light a fire under ourselves with that which Prometheus brought to us.