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Monday, June 10, 2013

Best History-based Informational Text Ever! (Informational text is the new term for what we used to call non-fiction books.)

Sheinkin, Steve (2012) Bomb:  The Race to Build -- and steal-- the world's most dangerous weapon.  New York:  Roaring Brook Press

During World War 2, the Germans were working on developing an atom bomb.  They had a factory built into the side of a mountain in Norway that was manufacturing the heavy water that the Germans planned to use to insulate the reaction chamber and start a nuclear reaction.  The American and British intelligence forces managed to paratroop in a handful of escaped members of the Norwegian Resistance.  After a batched landing that was miles off of where they were supposed to be, these men skied down a mountain, through a forest, and up a frozen river.  They crawled through a series of ventilation ducts and planted explosives.  They escaped before the blast and hid out in the woods.  After weeks of near starvation and freezing to death, constantly risking being caught by German patrols, the Norwegians managed to set up a radio and get word back to Britain.  It turned out that British intelligence already knew about the explosion, but they also knew that the Germans had recovered much of the heavy water they had already produced and planned to transport it out of Norway the next day.  It was up to the half-frozen, hungry, desperate Norwegian group to stop that shipment.

     I know, this sounds like the plot to a war movie action thriller (maybe A-Team II), but it really happened.  It is just one of many stories described in Sheinkin's new book.  The book describes the race between the Americans, Russians, and Germans to build the first atomic weapon.  There are amazing stories of spying and counter-spying in here that I had never heard of before.  This book shows middle school and high school students that history is not just a series of uninteresting treaties and constitutional amendments, but rather it is a fascinating story of moments where the actions of a small number of really brave or smart people make a huge difference. 
      Historians might point out that there is more to history than this sort of moment and I am sure they are right, but if you want to kindle in students an intense interest in reading about history, this is your book.  It is wonderfully written and illustrated with black and white photographs at the chapter breaks.  If you teach history, get hold of this.  If you like reading about history, get hold of this.  If you like reading -- get hold of this. 
     Oh, and I am not going to tell you what happens to the desperate Norwegians.  You'll have to read that on your own.


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