March 24, 2016

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:34 am by suebe2

Most Dangerous:
Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press

Daniel Ellsberg was a marine who had led men in battle in Vietnam.  He was also a genius who worked as a Pentagon consultant.  As a consultant he gained access to a secret history of the war known as the Pentagon Papers.  He wasn’t supposed to have the report but a secretly friend loaned him a copy and Ellsberg couldn’t believe what he read.  It was obvious why one President after another had failed to win the Vietnam War.

Why?  They weren’t trying to win because it would mean too many American deaths.  Why then continue to fight? No one wanted to be the first American President to lose a war.  The goal was simply to hang on until after the next election while continuing to send US soldiers to die.

In 1971, Ellsberg leaked parts of the Pentagon Papers to various reporters.  He did this knowing that he could be convicted of treason and sent to prison.  He considered that a small price to pay to bring the truth to the American people.

It didn’t take long for President Nixon and his intelligence network to realize that Ellsberg was the leak.  With this knowledge, Nixon’s goal became to ruin Ellsberg.  His men broke into the offices of a psychiatrist who had treated Ellsberg, planted bugs and more.  Nixon believed that in this, and many other situations, that results matter more than whether or not you break the law to get these results.

This carefully researched book reads like a James Bond novel with G. Gordon Liddy and his men breaking into offices, wearing disguises and prepared to kill if necessary.  Sheinkin linked Nixon’s willingness to sidestep the law to get Ellsberg directly to Watergate.  But in Sheinkin’s story, Nixon is more than a power mad villain.  Sheinkin brings to light his motivations and his strengths as well as his weaknesses.

Any young reader interested in history, politics or recent whistle blowing cases, such as Snowden’s revelations about NCA surveillance, will enjoy this book. As always Sheinkin has created a tightly woven, fast paced story that, though factual, reads like a spy thriller.


September 18, 2014

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:23 am by suebe2

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers
by Steve Sheinkin
Scholastic Press

I tend to read before swim meets and when I’m waiting to pick swimmers up from practice.  Moms and dads and siblings and I all discuss our books.  The funny thing is that everyone saw this cover, read this title and assumed I had to be reading fiction.

Nope.  A group of counterfeiters set out to steal Lincoln’s remains on Election night, 1876.

Why?  Another counterfeiter, probably the king of them all, had been caught and jailed.  Without his work engraving plates, the supply of quality counterfeit was dwindling.  Quality goods are necessary so that you don’t get caught.  If they didn’t get more of his work soon, they’d all have to find other work.  They planned to steal and hide Lincoln’s remains.  The brains of the outfit would then “find” the body and return it to the feds.  I’m not certain why he tought that this wouldn’t scream “ransom demand” but that was their plan.

And stealing the body shouldn’t have been all that hard.  Two doors stood between Lincoln’s sarcophagus and the public.  Anyone who could cut through a padlock could gain entrance.

I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story because this is a true crime story and half of the beauty of this type of story well told is the suspense.

For those of you who know Sheinkin’s work, you know that this is going to be one of those stories that is just too crazy to be true . . . but it is.  Everything in the book from the setting to the characters to the story to the dialogue has been researched by Sheinkin.  The trick in this type of book is puzzling out what really happened.  Who is telling the truth and who is making things up?

For the middle grade reader who doesn’t want to read a story that is made up, the fan of true crime and detective stories.


July 5, 2013

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:44 am by suebe2

The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press

It all began with a simple, but amazing discovery.

In December of 1938, a German chemist split a Uranium atom, releasing a small amount of energy.  It wasn’t much but it was from only one atom.  How much energy would be produced if a mass of atom were split at one time?  Soon scientists in Europe and the U. S. began to experiment and while they experimented, they theorized.  What could be done with this amazing energy?

It wasn’t long before they realized the military implications and by then the world was at war.  Who ever figured out how to use this science to build a bomb would certainly win the war and the race was on.  Could the Americans build it before the Germans?  And if they couldn’t do it in a straight fight, what would it take to bring the German advances to a halt.

This is an amazingly complex story.

  • It involves scientists like Robert Oppenheimer who worked long hours trying to split atoms but also do it in a controlled manner.  Unbelievably, one of the early reactions was created in the middle of a Chicago with scientists nervously monitoring radiation levels while life went on, unaware, around them.
  • It involves Norwegian commandos given the job of halting production of heavy water at a plant in German held Norway.  They scaled cliffs, waded rivers and hiked mountain passes, all in freezing weather, to complete a mission that had seen the death of every British soldier assigned to the task.
  • It involves American soldiers and spies, given the task of removing scientists from German control if the German’s seemed likely to complete a bomb.  Kidnapping might work but assassination is a much more permanent solution.

As I read this story, I was continually amazed at how many things worked out without unstoppable chain reactions or other disasters in spite of the fact that scientists were struggling with something they were only coming to understand.

Sheinkin doesn’t ignore the ethical or moral implications of this work, covering the reactions of the scientists themselves when they realized how powerful were their creations.  He also discusses Truman’s decision to use the bombs on civilian targets as well as the following nuclear proliferation and contemporary dismantling of some of the weapons that have been stockpiled.

As Sheinkin notes, this is an amazing story of cooperation and discovery as well as responsibility.  And it is a story that is not yet finished.

Although this isn’t light reading, it is a compelling book, both by topic and through Sheinkin’s amazing story telling skills.  I don’t know that I would consider it a beach read but it is something that science geeks and history buffs alike could use to while away a summer afternoon.



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