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Posts Tagged ‘Nonfiction Mondays’

bombBomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin, is part spy thriller, part war story, part character study, and part Scientific American. It’s about scientific discovery, heroism, ingenuity, responsibility, secrecy, treason, and irrevocable decisions. Most sobering of all, it is completely true and it is still relevant today.

The bomb in question is the atomic bomb. Whoever wields it controls the outcome of both World War II and the post-atomic future. Germany has the advantage from the start; fission, the concept behind unleashing the atom’s power, was discovered in Berlin in 1938, and after Germany’s invasion of most of Europe, the Nazis controlled production of crucial bomb making materials such as uranium and heavy water. US strategy involved secretly inviting the world’s best scientists to the remote location of Los Alamos, where they worked under the leadership of theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is so far behind both countries in their nuclear research that it would be faster to develop a bomb through espionage. And that’s precisely what the KGB does.

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A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, a review.

A black hole is not a hole…

Nor is it a monstrous entity, a “runaway, out-of-control predator that feeds on galaxies…mangling stars and gobbling them up.” The truth is, black holes don’t need that kind of hype or help to grab our attention. The facts are cool enough already.

For example, did you know there’s a black hole at the center of our galaxy that’s got four million times the mass of our Sun? And even though it’s called a supermassive black hole (the smallest type of black hole that’s been detected), nobody knew it even existed until this millenium because its radio signals were too weak to be detected. But despite its small size, if you dropped by Sagittarius A*’s event horizon for a visit, you’d be spaghettified instantaneously. To have time to really do any sightseeing, you’d have to check out a bigger black hole! (more…)

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Review: Blizzard of Glass by Sally M. Walker (Nov. 2011)

(See more book reviews from this week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup at Great Kid Books and 100 Scope Notes).

On December 6, 1917, a munitions ship collided with another ship in the waters off Halifax, Canada. The resulting explosion killed some 2,000 people and leveled buildings for miles around. As the city reeled from shock, an oncoming blizzard hampered relief efforts. In clear, gripping prose, Walker tells the story of that terrible day through the eyes of five families who lived through—and were forever changed by—the disaster.

This is a book I simply couldn’t put down. The tension built gradually in the first few chapters as Walker introduces the families going about their normal business—kids walking to school, mothers dressing toddlers, fathers working by the docks—none of them suspecting how a combination of bad luck and miscommunication would lead to the largest man-made explosion until the atomic bomb. By the time Walker described what the families were doing just before the explosion, I was practically biting my nails: (more…)

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Review: Charles and Emma: the Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Jan 2009. A 2010 Printz Honor book and National Book Award Finalist)

See more book reviews from this week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup at Geo Librarian.

In 1838, when Charles Darwin was 29, his father told him to lie to his future wife. The problem was a religious one: Charles Darwin had begun working on his theory of evolution and although he wasn’t an atheist, he no longer believed that a divine being had created life. And that was pretty radical in Victorian England.

Luckily for Darwin, and the future of science, he ignored his father’s advice. Charles Darwin married Emma Wedgwood, a deeply religious woman who was dismayed—but respectful—of Charles’ religious doubts. Emma became Charles’ greatest critic: she pointed out flaws in his scientific research and edited his (long, sometimes confusing) prose. Nor was it a one-sided relationship: Emma had Charles read certain Bible passages that she hoped would reawaken religious belief. He read them carefully, and later, in his old age, he wrote that it was possible to be both a theist and evolutionist.

Over 150 years later, when we still see controversy over the teaching of evolution in high school science, it’s astounding to think that the Darwins handled their struggles with such mutual respect. (more…)

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Review: Flesh & Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin (Feb 2011)

The Triangle Fire. Say those words and you might recall a vague memory from high school history class. It’s not the kind of thing you can forget: in 1911, a fire broke out in a New York City factory, killing 146 workers, most of them young women. They were trapped on the top floors of a ten-story building with narrow exits and no sprinklers. Many chose to jump to their deaths rather than burn alive, and until September 11, 2001, the Triangle Waist Company Fire was the worst workplace tragedy in New York City history.

Sometimes the aftermath of an event is as important as the event itself. Albert Marrin uses the fire as a starting point to write about major social and labor reform. The book begins with a brief scene from the day of the fire. Marrin then jumps back to explain the circumstances that led up to that tragedy. He writes about immigrant life in the city’s tenements, labor strikes and unions. Ironically, the Triangle Fire was preceeded by one of the most successful strikes in American history. Workers won major concessions in that strike, yet it wasn’t enough to prevent the ensuing tragedy. It took a catastrophe to prompt significant improvements in workplace safety. Today, much of what we take for granted—fire escapes, child labor laws, accessible exits—are direct legacies of the Triangle Fire. (more…)

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