Steve Sheinkin’s Explosive Sequel to ‘Bomb’

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  • Nov. 5, 2021, 12:04 a.m. ET

Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown
By Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin’s caller nonfiction thriller astir the Cold War is similar 1 of its cardinal emblems, the U-2 spy plane: fast, thin and capable to survey a immense magnitude of territory. “Fallout” besides introduces young readers to plentifulness of worldly that for years was considered classified.

Picking up wherever helium near disconnected astatine the extremity of “Bomb,” his 2012 National Book Award finalist astir the subject and espionage surrounding the atomic bomb, Sheinkin offers a whirlwind relationship of events starring up to the Cuban rocket crisis. The stakes stay mind-bendingly high, since astatine the clip some the United States and the Soviet Union were rushing to make (even much destructive) hydrogen bombs.

Sheinkin begins his communicative successful June 1953 with 13-year-old Jimmy Bozart, a Brooklyn paperboy who happens upon a portion of Soviet tradecraft, a hollow nickel containing an encrypted message. From here, cutting betwixt aggregate communicative lines and locations, Sheinkin presents galore much riddles to beryllium solved. The section rubric “ZUGZWANG”? A transportation betwixt chess and diplomacy. Part 2’s heading, “The Hedgehog and the Pants”? A question Nikita Khrushchev asks his defence curate — “What if we propulsion a hedgehog down Uncle Sam’s pants?” — that sets successful question the rocket crisis.

“Fallout” offers young readers accusation alternatively than reassurances. On 1 of the infamous 13 days successful October 1962, President John F. Kennedy said to his aides, “It is insane that 2 men, sitting connected other sides of the world, should beryllium capable to determine to bring an extremity to civilization.” Other initially mystifying features of the Cold War see the divided metropolis of Berlin, located 110 miles distant from West Germany successful East Germany; Sheinkin makes wide wherefore it was the astir contested spot connected earth. There was besides the Bay of Pigs, a U.S.-backed penetration of Cuba that was among respective unsuccessful plots against Fidel Castro. Another dubious idea, dispersed by the authorities and others, was that mean Americans could past a thermonuclear onslaught by ducking, covering oregon gathering a fallout shelter. Life mag pointed retired the upside of gathering specified a structure: “If warfare ne'er comes, children tin assertion it for a hideaway, begetter tin usage it for poker games and parent tin number connected it arsenic a impermanent room.”

Both Khrushchev and Kennedy are portrayed arsenic governmental animals who don’t privation to look weak. They besides person a federation and families they privation to protect; Sheinkin was fortunate capable to interrogation Khrushchev’s lad Sergei, an American national from 1999 until his decease past year. Of people “Fallout” features a fewer straight-up heroes and villains. In August 1961, erstwhile the Berlin Wall started going up, a young cyclist named Harry Seidel began tunneling nether it and, astatine large hazard to himself, helped dozens of East Berliners flight to the West. Less considerate of others are the U.S. subject leaders, specified arsenic Curtis LeMay and Thomas Power, who urged a monolithic onslaught connected Cuba the pursuing October, nary substance the Soviet reaction. “Look, astatine the extremity of the war,” Power said, “if determination are 2 Americans and 1 Russian, we win!”

In his streamlined mentation of the aboriginal Cold War, Sheinkin needfully omits a lot. He besides understates the hawkishness that Kennedy deployed to get elected and his member Robert displayed during the rocket crisis. But conscionable arsenic “Bomb” leads to this book, truthful mightiness “Fallout” nonstop readers to “Most Dangerous,” Sheinkin’s 2015 introspection of the Vietnam War and Daniel Ellsberg. What explosive secrets volition helium crook to next?

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