BombFrom School Library Journal Gr 5 Up-“Harry Gold was right: This is a big story.” So begins this depiction of the “creation-and theft-of the deadliest weapon ever invented.” As he did in The Notorious Benedict Arnold (Roaring Brook, 2010), Sheinkin has again brought his superior talent for storytelling to bear in what is truly a gripping account of discovery, espionage, and revolutionary changes in both physics and the modern world. This fascinating tale, packed with a wide cast of characters, focuses mainly on three individuals: spy for the Soviets Harry Gold, leader of the Manhattan Project J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Knut Haukelid, who sabotaged German bomb efforts while working for the Norwegian resistance. Sheinkin skillfully combines lucid, conversational snapshots of the science behind the atomic bomb with a fast-paced narrative of the remarkable people who made it possible and attempted to steal it. Handsomely designed and loaded with archival photos and primary-source documents, the accessible volume lays out how the bomb was envisioned and brought to fruition. While the historical information and hard facts presented here will likely be new to the intended audience, they in no way overwhelm readers or detract from the thoroughly researched, well-documented account. It reads like an international spy thriller, and that’s the beauty of it.

Enduring Understandings 

The safety of this nation cannot lie wholly or even primarily in its scientific or technical prowess. It can be based only on making future wars impossible.”  Robert Oppenheimer


Steve SheinkenEssential Questions

  • Was the decision to build and drop the bomb on Japan justified?
  • Is it right for one group of people to be sacrificed to save another?
  • What is the journalist’s role in reporting during war?
  • How did the author write history like a story?

Historical Background 

The Men of the Manhattan Project

Einstein's LetterOn October 11, 1939, Alexander Sachs, Wall Street economist and longtime friend and unofficial advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, met with the President Roosevelt to discuss a letter writeen by Albert Einstein the previous August.  Einstein had written to inform Roosevelt that recent researh on chain reactions utilizing uranium made it probable that large amounts of power could be produced by a chain reaction and that, by harnessing this power, the construction of “extremely powerful bombs” was conceivable.  Einstein believed the German government was actively supporting research in this area and urged the United States government to do likewise. Roosevelt summed up the conversation by saying, “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.”

See the actual letter from the FDR Library:  Einstein’s Letter to Roosevelt

Einstein drafted his famous letter with the help of the Hungarian emmigrant physicist Leo Szilard, one of the number of European scientists who had fled to the United States in teh 1930s to escape Nazi oppression.  Szilard was among the most vocal of those advocating a program to develop bombs based on recent findings in nuclear phyiscs and chemistry.  Those like Szilard and fellow Hungarian refugee physicists Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner regarded it as their responsibility to alert Americans to the possibility that German scientists might win the race to build an atomic bomb and to warn that Hitler would be more than willing to resort to such a weapon.  The United States could not take that chance, and so the Manhattan Project was born.  

The presentation below reviews the biographies of some of the most prominent members of the Manhattan Project.  

A Moment in Time:  A History of the Manhattan Project 

On May 12, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an order creating a secret project to develop the nuclear weapon. The program that developed the atomic bomb for the United States during World War II was the largest secret project ever undertaken by the U.S. government.

The project was originally named “Development of Substitute Materials,” but there was concern that the name was too suggestive of its real purpose. Since it was frequently the case the US Army Corps of Engineers offices were named for the city in which they were based, it was renamed Manhattan Engineering District, which became known as the Manhattan Project.

Complete the Manhattan Project Viewing Guide as you watch the documentary below. 

A Witness to History

It is 1945, and one journalist is on the inside.  His name is Mr. Laurence and he has been been given complete access to the scientists from the Manhattan Project.  Watch this informational video that shows a clip of his experience:  A Witness to History (video)

  • What three questions would best serve the public to have answered by these professionals?
  • Would you publish your findings?  


Read Laurence’s article on the bombing of Hiroshima and note strong language, vivid descriptions, and other notable features.  Complete the RAFT Activity.   

Part One:  The Three Way Race 


Explain why the author chose to start his story in a flashback.  What are the benefits of using this literary device?  

How does having background information about the Manhattan project help readers understand the exposition?

Why does Harry Gold confess? 

“Skinny Superhero”

Robert Oppenheimer- Physicist
Robert Oppenheimer- Physicist

By selecitng only a few anecdotes from Oppenheimer’s life, those that he did choose are important to developing the character in a certain way.  Complete the “Skinny Superhero Characterization” and explain how a theoretical physicist is supposed to save the world.  Consider what effects the events in Germany (Hitler’s rise to power) and America (the Great Depression) have on Oppenheimer.  

What fictional superhero is Oppenheimer most like and why?  Cast your vote.


“The U Business-Finding Einstein”

The Physics of Fission

The science is fascinating.  Can you explain how fission works?  Here are two videos to help readers understand the concepts.  Note where the story about atoms is located in the newspaper.  What does this say about how journalists viewed the importance of the splitting of atoms? 

How Fission Works

How Fission Works

How Small is an Atom?


Read Einstein’s letter to President Roosevelt.  Are Roosevelt’s conclusions that this news requires immediate action correct? 


Communism vs Capitalism 

Harry Gold- Spy
Harry Gold- S


Explain why Harry Gold provides the Soviet Union with secret information.  Is he a victim or villain?  Consider Gold’s actions using this Tradecraft Information Gap graphic organizer.  Write a one paragraph response.  


“Rapid Rupture” 

Explain why the FBI is interested in Semyon Semynonov and Robert Oppenheimer.  

Rewatch the scenes of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and FDR’s declaration of war.  Explain why this is a turning point for the United States.  Does FDR make a case for a just war?  Use this study guide to help you with the criteria of a just war, and find the videos here:  


The Art of Narrative Non-Fiction

assignmentHow do authors use descriptive writing techniques to engage their readers?  The scene about Pearl Harbor is vivid and exciting.  How does Sheinkin achieve that effect?  Annotate the passage to identify examples of:  (1) vivid word choice, (2) visual imagery, (3) sensory details, (4) figurative language, (4) emotional appeal.

At the National Council of Teachers of English conference in 2013, I had the opportunity to ask Steve Sheinkin a few questions about how he made history read like a story.  Here is one:  

Question:  In researching the character of Oppenheimer, did you read American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin?  If so, what was your favorite story of Oppenheimer’s to write? 

Answer:  I liked his early life, particularly the scenes of him as a young high school geek.  One of the scenes that I liked writing best had to be cut from the final draft of the book.  It was when as a young rock collector, Oppenheimer was asked to speak at a conference.  He was only twelve years old and it was a surprise when he arrived and the panel discovered his true identity.  He gave a terrific presentation, but he really didn’t want to go.  His father made him.  

Read that excerpt from American Prometheus and ghost write the scene.  Try using all the descriptive writing techniques.  

“The Norway Connection – Enormoz”

Knut Haukelid- Norwegian
Knut Haukelid- Norwegian

Evaluate the military strategies each country has for winning the war by examining resources and liabilities.  At this point, which country is most likely to win the race to build the bomb and how important is having that weapon to the success of their victory?  Use this Part One Open Response Graphic Organizer to develop your ideas.

How does the Hiskey’s breach of confidentiality create an opportunity for the Russian spy network?   


Part Two:  Chain Reactions

“On the Cliff”

Why did Groves decide to hire Oppenheimer?  What issues did Groves have to overcome to get Oppenheimer on board?  How is Leslie Groves figuratively “on the cliff”?  

Optional Role Play Activity:  Re-enact the interview.  

“International Gangsters” 

Explain why heavy water was so important to the German bomb making program.  How did the Norwegian freedom fighters plan to foil the German effort to create an atomic bomb?

Gliders Down” 

An old Norwegian saying goes, “A man who is a man goes on until he can go no further– and then goes twice as far.”  How does this relate to the key players in the arms race?  

Explain why the mission failed and how that disaster affected the secret mission.  

“Quiet Fellow” 

  • Why would Fuchs be known as both an insider and and outsider?  
  • What is the link between Gold and Fuchs?
  • Describe Oppenheimer’s Communist connection and evaluate how likely he is to give away secrets to the Soviets?  
  • Why didn’t he tell anyone about the Chevilier’s invitation to help the Soviets?

“Disappearing Scientists”

Compare and contrast the three scientists who join the Manhattan Project in terms of why the accepted the assignment and how they decided.  Identify one commonality that they all share with each other and Knut Haukelid.

“Chicago Pile” 

Why was Fermi’s work essential to the development of the bomb and how did he find an answer to a critical unknown.

“Operation Gunnerside-High Concentration” 

The Saboteurs of Telemark (BBC 1973)

This BBC documentary tells the story of the raid on the Norsk Hydro plant at Vemork in Telemark, Norway, in 1943.  It contains interviews with the Norwegian resistance fighters involved, including Knut Haukelid, as well as re-enactments of the missions.  



Explain how America, Germany, and the Soviet Union are engaged in a “The Three Way Race” to acquire an atomic bomb by evaluating each country’s resources and liabilities at this point in the war and identifying each country’s standing in the race.  Three Way Race Rubric


Section Three:  How to Build an Atomic Bomb 

“The Gatekeeper” 

Dorothy McKibben“We are building an electric rocket!”  Before reading the sections, students participate in a role play activity in which they get their classmates to believe a rumor.  

After reading the chapter consider Dorothy McKibbens’ pronouncement, “I don’t know where ever you got that idea. There’s nothing of that sort in Santa Fe that we know of” and explain the paradox in the public’s response.  

“The Gadget”

Pretend that you are a journalist who gets information from Robert Oppenheimer’s FBI bodyguard that Oppenheimer is a Communist and is aiding the Soviets.  What should you do?   

“Laboratory Number 2- Ferry Job”

Groves makes two good decisions:  

  1. He trusts Rober Oppenheimer despite serious concerns about his chief scientist’s loyalty.
  2. He distrusts the Germans so he garners support from his Allies in the form of Knut Haukelid to stop the transport hard water out of Norway to Germany.  

“Dirty Work- Secret Cities” 

Carl Eiffler
Carl Eiffler

Listen to a rare Interview with Leslie Groves about his relationship with Secretary of War Henry Stimson and read

Life in Oak Ridge, TN 

In the world of Theater Arts, it is widely believed that “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Often in movies, the bit parts steal the scene.  Both Colonel Carl Eifler and Richard Feynman have minor but important roles in these two chapters.  Pretend that you are the Director and you have to cast these parts.  Who would you hire and how would you inspire your actor to steal the scene?  

“Man With Four Gloves”- “Two Inside”

  • Identify Hall’s motive for helping the Soviets.  What kind of screening of scientists did Manhattan Project recruiters do to secure top secret information?  Why would Fuchs and Hall fly under the radar of suspicion?  
  • Compare Hall with Edward Snowden, another young American who devulged secret information, in terms of motives, methods, type of information, and potential harm to U.S. interests.  How would you characterize these men?  
  • Does history confirm or disprove Hall’s theory that the world is safer when multiple superpowers have access to the atomic bomb?  
  • Read George Koval: Atomic Spy which tells the story of a spy in the Oak Ridge, Tennessee plant who passed information to Harry Gold.  Why do you think Sheikin does not add Koval to his narrative?  


assignmentPart Three Review 

Read the Sabateur Telegrams and watch the PBS documentary, Hitler’s Sunken Secret (or read Hitler’s Sunken Secret transcript) and explain if the mission to sink the heavy water was a success.  


Part Four:  Final Assembly

“The Pilot”  

Compare the background check of Tibbets with that of Hall.  Why was Tibbets chosen for the mission to drop the bomb? 

“Swiss Deal” – “Implosion”

espionageWhy was Eifler replaced with Berg for the mission of silencing Heisenberg?  Why did Berg decide that Heisenberg was harmless? How certain was Moe Berg that Weisenberg was harmless?  Read this NY Times article, “How Certain Was He?” 

Create an “espionage manual” by listing the rules of effective spying that Berg, Hall, Fuchs, and Gold follow.  


“Falling Stars” 

What does the chapter title refer to?   Is it metaphorical or literal?  

“Land of Enchantment”  

Reread the Prologue and note that the narrative structure contains a flashback.  Harry Gold folds when the FBI agents find the map of New Mexico, “Land of Enchantment”.  In this chapter, this reference is revisited.  This reference gives the reader a clue that the story is reaching its climax.  

Revise your spy manual to add rules outlined in this chapter. Prioritize your rules and explain your decision. Explain why Harry Gold is now the “weak link.”  

In this chapter, David Greenglass has a bit part but in history he was infamous.  David Greenglass was the younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg.  She and her husband, Julius, were the only one executed for espionage from this time period.  Watch this video about their grisly execution.  

“Trinity”- “Test Shot” 

New York Times correspondent William Laurence got a front row seat at the test site.  He wrote these words about the experience.  Read the full article, “Drama of the Atomic Bomb Found Climaz in July 16 Test”  

The Atomic Age began at exactly 5.30 Mountain War Time on the morning of July 15, 1945, on a stretch of semi-desert land about 50 airline miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico. And just at that instance there rose from the bowels of the earth a light not of this world, the light of many suns in one. … At first it was a giant column that soon took the shape of a supra-mundane mushroom.

Watch the first six minutes of this video about how President Truman finds out about the success of the test at Trinity and then tells Stalin and read “Truman Tells Stalin, July 24, 1945″ which presents first hand accounts of how Truman informed Stalin of America’s “new weapon of unusual destructive force” at the Potsdam conference.  

What purpose could be served by Truman’s tactic to inform the Soviet leader in this way?  
Did Truman, Churchill, and Byrnes know what they were doing, or did they make a tragic blunder? Did Sheinkin present the scene accurately in Bomb?  

Read Leslie Groves’ letter to the President about the test.  

While congratulating each other on the success of their mission, Oppenheimer and fellow scientists felt a sudden chill– something both physical and emotional. Explain the metaphor and evaluate Lawrence’s article for descriptive details that might make the American people feel the same chill. 

“Little Boy”  

paul tibbetts

On July 3, 1987, 42 years after dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets recalls his mindset during the fateful mission on August 6, 1945. Listen to Paul Tibbetts on dropping the bomb.  




When Truman asks General George Marshall how many Americans were likely to be killed or wounded, Marshall estimated the cost would be a quarter of a million American casualties.  That settled it for Truman.  “It was a question of saving hundreds of thousads of American lives.  I coldn’t worry about what history would say about my personal morality.  I made the only decision I ever know how to make.  I did what I thought was right.”  

Here is Truman’s diary entry recounting this decision.  What do the bolded lines reveal about Truman’s intentions?  Who was his audience in this diary entry?  

We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.

Anyway we “think” we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexico desert was startling – to put it mildly. Thirteen pounds of the explosive caused the complete disintegration of a steel tower 60 feet high, created a crater 6 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter, knocked over a steel tower 1/2 mile away and knocked men down 10,000 yards away. The explosion was visible for more than 200 miles and audible for 40 miles and more.

This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful…

Truman’s Hiroshima Announcement

Bombing of Nagasaki and Japan’s surrender 

Research this decision by reading a selection of primary source documents using this The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb resource collection.  

In the immediate aftermath, what was the general opinion of the decision?

“Reaction Begins”

Describe the various reactions to the bombing of Hiroshima:  the scientists at Los Alamos, the German scientists, the Soviets, the Japanese, and Truman and Stimson.   

Watch this PBS video about the dropping of the bombs.  Do the visual images change your understanding?  Would they have changed any of the other key players responses?  

“End Game”  

Explain how the Soviet Union finally came to build a bomb of their own.  

“Father of the Bomb”

“I feel I have blood on my hands,” laments Oppenheimer to President Truman.  Truman is not sympathetic because Oppenheimer is not the only one who has “blood on his hands.”  Make an ordered list of the people who are most responsible for the suffering at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Are they heroes or villians?  Explain your answer.  

Imagine that Oppenheimer could talk with John Bradley, the Navy corpsman who survived the battle at Iwo Jima.  What would that conversation sound like?  Would Bradley alleviate Oppenheimer’s guilt or make it more intense.  

Epilogue:  Scorpions in a Bottle 

Explain the metaphor of the chapter title.  

Challenging the Press

On the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, an independent news organization challenged William Laurence’s reporting with claims that he was on the government payroll and was not objectively reporting the news.  They filed a complaint to have his Pulitzer Prize award revoked.  Do some research on this issue and weigh in on the debate.  Does Laurence deserve to keep the Pulitzer Prize?  


The Cold War:  

Examining Satire in Dr. Suess’ The Butter Battle Book  

The United States and the Soviet Union have always had a difficult relationship.  Although the two countries were on the same side during World War II, it was more because they were fighting a common enemy than because they liked each other.  Around the time of the Postdam conference that ended the war in Europe, hostilities started to increase.  

Historical Background of the Cold War 

JFK Loneliest Job

  • Read this article about the The Cold War from the J.F. Kennedy Library archives and summarize the political differences between the United States and the Soviet Union.  
  • OPTIONAL VIEWING of Three Men Go To War about the Cuban Missile Crisis or tour the interactive exhibit from the J. F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, World on the Brink
  • Participate in Cuban Missile Crisis Interactive Activity.  
  • Watch President Kennedy’s Address to the Nation October 22, 1962 warning Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev to withdraw missiles from Cuba.  

Recognizing the Use of Satire 

The Butter Battle Book

The The Butter Battle Book text

Here are three readings of Dr. Seuss’ classic tale.  See which one you enjoy best.  

The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Suess

Animated Version

iMovie Version

Book Version

The Butter Battle Book and the Cold War

The Man Who Saved The World 

If you thought no one could get any cooler that Knut Haukelid, think again.  There is another unsung hero that may have literaly saved the human race.  His name was Vasili Arkipov and he was a submarine commander of a Russian fleet on that fateful day of October 27, 1962 when the world hovered on the brink of a nuclear war.  It was Vasili alone who stopped the madness.  

Watch the video that details the events that led to his decision to veto the launch of a nuclear warhead off the coast of Cuba.  

  • How might his actions be consistent with what U.S. leaders have learned about handling crisis.
  • How might a character like Arkipov play into Dr. Suess’ Butter Battle scenario?  



Satire ridicules a subject in order to make a comment or criticism about it.

Examine Dr. Suess’ story as a satirical commentary on how the Cold War led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Be sure to use specific references from the children’s book and other historical documents provided. 

Unit Extentions 

Copenhagen PBS

This 2002 film, based on the play by Michael Frayn, imagines what might have happened between the physicists Niels Bohr (Stephen Rea, The Crying Game) and Werner Heisenberg (Daniel Craig, The Road to Perdition) on a particular night in September of 1941. Heisenberg was collaborating with Nazis in Germany; Bohr, a Jew, was living in occupied Denmark but had contact with physicists on the Allied side. Something in this meeting destroyed their longstanding friendship; Frayn envisions their ghosts–and that of Bohr’s wife, Margrethe (Francesca Annis, Dune)–reliving, arguing, and fantasizing about a conversation in which an innocent topic like skiing could slide into a dangerous discussion of physics and politics. This skillfully woven and well-acted conversation, far from being a static talk-fest, has all the dynamism of a psychological thriller. Our intentions, like the particles at the heart of physics, can never be known for certain.


Timeline of Events (graphic) The Atomic Bomb (contemporary article) William L. Laurence (primary source) A Witness to History (video) President Truman’s Diaries (primary source)

Truman: American Experience


The Manhattan Project PARCC Practice


The Manhattan Project The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb by Information Network for Responsible Mining

Hiroshima by John Hersey

In May of 1946, The New Yorker magazine sent journalist John Hersey to Hiroshima to find out what really happened. His mission was to interview the survivors of the catastrophe and document what they had seen, felt, and thought and report on the cost of the bomb in terms of human suffering and the reaction to that suffering.  He staying in Japan for a month gathering first hand accounts from civilian witnesses.  Here is his published report.  


An Excerpt from The Snowden Files 

Read the excerpt from The Snowden Files and compare the characterization of Ted Hall with that of Edward Snowden.

Read an excerpt from “The Snowden Files” by Luke Harding by OnPointRadio

The Narrative Form 

The Mythological Quality of Oppenheimer’s Story  

  Post WWII:  The Berlin Wall and the Cold War Lesson provided by the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  

berlin wallExplore: The Berlin Wall, communism, the Soviet blockade, the Iron Curtain, freedom of the press, the Cold War, censorship, propaganda, Post-World War II European history, communication technologies, the first draft of history, the power of the press. Summary:  The Berlin Wall was the only wall in history built to keep a nation’s people locked inside. For 28 years, it stood as grim testimony to an epic confrontation between open and closed societies. Journalists Tom Brokaw, Daniel Schorr, Charles Wheeler, John Simpson, Erdmute-Reiss Geherendt and Adam Kellett-Long explain how news and information helped topple one of the world’s biggest symbols of oppression. This video and viewing guide examine the relationship between the press and the city of Berlin, beginning after World War II. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Allies — Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union — split Germany into four sectors; they did likewise with the capital city of Berlin, located entirely within the Soviet Union’s eastern sector. A stark contrast quickly arose between the British, French and American western sectors and communist-controlled East Germany and East Berlin. While reconstruction progressed and news flowed in the West, in the East, conditions remained poor, and access to information was restricted. Ultimately, to stop the flow of educated professionals from leaving East Berlin for the western half of the city, the East German government erected the Berlin Wall in 1961. The wall became a symbol of the Cold War, as tensions simmered and governments on both sides spread propaganda about their neighbors. Some daring East Berliners risked their lives to escape over or under the barrier, and those who stayed behind began a long fight for freedom. In 1989, as the Soviet Union moved toward dissolution, a surprise announcement ended nearly three decades of division in Berlin. Learn more about the role of the press in a free society and its power to shape politics and history. Video Lesson on the Berlin Wall Who’s Minding the Nuclear Weapons? Lesley Stahl gets rare access inside an American nuclear control center and meets the young airmen who watch over some of the world’s deadliest weapons.

Who\'s Minding the Nukes

Who Is Minding the Nukes Part I

Who Is Minding the Nukes Part 2

  Why the Original Patriots Would Have Disapproved of Surveillance

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