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Trio of authors present different looks at the atomic bomb’s development

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three new books – two nonfiction and a historical novel – offer readers fresh perspectives on the people behind the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project and its headquarters in the closed city of Los Alamos have a vital role in all three.

Chris Wallace

In one book, “Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World,” Chris Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday, with Mitch Weiss, present behind-closed-door views and snapshots of politicians, advisors, military men, world leaders, and others who shaped President Harry S Truman’s decision to drop the Atom Bomb on two Japanese cities in August 1945.

The book’s countdown starts on April 12, 1945, with then-Vice President Truman being summoned to the White House and informed that President

Countdown 1945

Franklin D. Roosevelt has just died. Moments after Truman’s swearing-in, Secretary of War Henry Stimson pulled the new commander-in-chief aside to briefly tell him about a top-secret project Truman knew nothing about. Stimson said the project was aimed at developing “a new explosive of almost unbelievable destructive power.” Truman would of course quickly learn more about the Manhattan Project, and fast.

The project’s work resulted in the successful Trinity test of the plutonium-core atomic bomb on July 16 in the Jornada del Muerto of what was then Alamogordo Air Base. That test, which occurred 75 years ago this Thursday, ushered in the “nuclear age.”

“Countdown” also weaves in the lives of ordinary people affected by the bomb. One life of special interest is that of Hideko Tamura, a 10-year schoolgirl who survived the bombing of Hiroshima. She later immigrated to the United States and became a peace activist.

The second book is “Hannah’s War” Jan Eliasberg’s electric debut novel.

Jan Eliasberg

This story takes the reader into Austrian Jewish physicist Hannah Weiss’ work in nuclear fission at the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin in the 1930s. In alternating chapters, Weiss is seen doing similar scientific research on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos in the 1940s.

The author skillfully meshes Hannah’s professional and personal issues in the two countries – espionage (A U.S. military spy catcher tries to determine if Hannah is sending secret messages about the project to Stefan, her former German colleague); romance (there’s a love affair simmering between Hannah

Hannah’s War

and Stefan, and the spy catcher smitten with her); anti-Semitism (how do Hannah and the spy chaser deal with racial injustice?), and feminism (Is Hannah smart enough to know when to stand her ground in the man’s world of scientific research?).

There is an underlying subject – morality – wrapped around the story.

The subject is raised in a paragraph before the novel opens, arguing that scientists have a higher duty to make the world a better place.

It’s from a quote Eliasberg borrowed from Lise Meitner, the real Austrian Jewish nuclear physicist on whom the character of Hannah is based. Meitner fled to Sweden in 1939.

“I do believe one person can change the world. Hannah and Stefan do,” the author said in a phone interview.

In researching the book, Eliasberg came across a sentence in a New York Times article published Aug. 6, 1945 the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It said the key component allowing the Allies to develop the bomb was provided by a female, non-Aryan physicist. Eliasberg continued digging and learned that the unnamed person was Meitner.

The author is a veteran screenwriter and stage, film and TV director. Her credits include writing drama pilots for NBC, CBS and ABC, and directing episodes of “Wiseguy,” “Miami Vice,” “13 Reasons Why” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.” She directed the feature film “Past Midnight.”

Despite those credits, Eliasberg said writing “Hannah’s War” was her best creative experience. The novel fulfilled a lifelong desire to succeed as an author. An idea she has for another novel is about another very strong female character also based on a real person. She said she’s formed a backdrop for it that’s politically meaningful in the moment.

Roseanne Montillo’s Atomic Women

The third book is Roseanne Montillo’s “Atomic Women: The Untold Stories of the Scientists Who Helped Create the Nuclear Bomb.” The book profiles such women as Lise Meitner, Hungarian Jewish nuclear chemist Elizabeth Rona, Nobel Prize-winning French chemist Irène Joliot-Curie, Leona Woods, Elizabeth Graves and Joan Hinton. Some of the women worked for the Manhattan Project. The book is targeted for readers age 12 and older.

 

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