Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bombs Over Bikini

Goldsmith, Connie.  Bombs Over Bikini.  Twenty-first Century Books, 2014.

For most children and teenagers today, the drama of the Cold War and fears of imminent nuclear war are mostly just historical mumbo-jumbo.  Even harder for them to understand are the terrible fearful immediately post-war years, when the US and the Soviet Union were locked in a feverish race for better and more deadly weapons, explosive power that would make even the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem insignificant.  In Bombs Over Bikini, Connie Goldsmith helps to make that time, and the consequences of the combination of fear and arrogance, real for today’s youth by focusing on the Bikini Atoll bomb tests and the terrible damage done to man and land alike by men playing with forces that they had no hope of understanding or controlling.

Careful to keep the likely age of her readers in mind, Goldsmith is nevertheless frank as she expounds on the actions of the American navy and its associated scientists as they exploded a series of ever more powerful atomic bombs on Bikini and surrounding atolls.  Photographs give life to the naval authorities, common sailors, and island peoples, even the animals who too were victims of the bombs tests as Goldsmith details how many were exposed to horrific levels of radiation both during and after the tests.  Inset boxes within the texts offers additional information on key individuals or further explanation of mentioned topics.    Chapters are short and the narrative accessible; the book is carefully paced to keep the reader engaged and to prevent the boredom often associated with reading history textbooks.  Footnotes, a rich bibliography, glossary, and suggested list of additional resources confirm the veracity of Goldsmith's text and encourage the reader to explore the topic further for greater understanding of the American nuclear program, the dangers of radiation and radioactive fallout, and the peoples of the Marshall Islands.

History classes, in my experience, often fail to address America’s failures and mistakes at both the national and international level.  Books like Goldsmith’s are important for young readers because they shine a light on the darkly shadowed elements of our history that we would perhaps be happier to forget, but which must be known so that they cannot be repeated.  Bombs Over Bikini is a brilliant introduction to this sad chapter of American military and scientific history, a straightforward condemnation of the indifference with which the people of the Bikini Islands have been and continue to be treated by the US Government, and a warning for those who would pursue knowledge without careful consideration of both the current and future dangers.  

ARC received from NetGalley.

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