I won’t be making it to this year’s Fennboree, but if I could, I would take a moment in Santa Fe to get a look at an ancient wrought iron gate on East Palace Avenue, the site where dozens if not hundreds of scientists, mathematicians, and physicists, after meeting with gatekeeper Dorothy McKibben, disappeared from sight beginning in April 1943.
(Well, first I might stop at that French pastry shop at La Fonda where Amy bought those gorgeous treats for Forrest’s book signing last September.)
Said portal transported those invited to the site of the Los Alamos Ranch School on a mesa in New Mexico. You probably know (part of) the rest of the story, but for me, I learned a lot from a book called Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin, my newest favorite non-fiction author. Wow. He used to write textbooks for schools but kept notes on all the things they wouldn’t let him put in–fascinating stuff I should have learned. Sheinkin puts it together in a compelling and quick read. (Young Adult level but hey, who’s got time for an academic treatise these days?)
So back to the story: the race between the Americans and the Germans to develop the bomb; some very, very brave Norwegians on a mission; the spies who wanted to steal the plans for Stalin; the guys who just wanted to give it to the Russians so there wouldn’t be only one superpower in possession of the new and terrible weapon of mass destruction.
When I was young, my ideas of Russian spies were partly based on Boris and Natasha, and hearing intimations about the McCarthy era excesses. Somehow my public school history classes never got much past the Civil War by the end of the school year, hence the black holes in my knowlege. (No, that’s not a typo; it’s spelled Fenn’s way.)
[Side note: There was a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode titled Buried Treasure. Hmm. Frostbite Falls?]
I could also rave about Sheinkin’s newest book, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret Viet Nam War. I have no excuse for not knowing or remembering more about the topic, having been of school age when it was in the newspapers, except that the facts didn’t all make it into the media at the time. I wish that weren’t still true. History gives us perspective if we’d only choose to look at the parallels in our own day. Does your view of Ellsberg color your impression of Snowden? What caused Benjamin Arnold to switch sides? Had you even heard of the Port Chicago 50?
Do you agree with Abraham Lincoln?
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
(Check out Steve Sheinkin’s other books like King George: What Was His Problem? or The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights or Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, etc.)