Today I’m continuing my focus on WWII with some tremendous nonfiction I recommend for ages 14 through adult. These riveting titles all address aspects of the courageous resistance to Hitler.
Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin
published in 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
I have deferred reading this book for several years, even as it has accumulated so many accolades! Newbery Honor. Sibert Medal. Yalsa winner. National Book Award finalist. Sheesh! For some reason, I just couldn’t cook up the interest to read about atomic bombs.
That was a mistake! This is a superb book!
It’s an engrossing account of the world-changing discovery of atom-splitting and the leviathan destruction these minute particles could unleash. Brilliant scientists unveiling realities that shook them to their core. Governments racing to be the first to control these weapons, and thus the world. Spies and counter-spies risking their lives. Americans. Germans. Russians. Explosive tests beyond imagination and unfathomable carnage rained upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Even if reading that list of ingredients fails to whet your whistle, you must believe me when I say that Steve Sheinkin has accumulated a mammoth amount of information, organized and parsed it out impeccably, sprinkled in just the right amount of asides to bring rays of sunshine to the story, and brought a fascinating human face to this technology-race. I could not put it down. Highly recommended. 236 pages plus photographs and source notes. It deserves every honor it has won.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb, by Neal Bascomb
published in 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
One of the facets related in Sheinkin’s book is the Nazi-occupation of Norway and control of a plant producing heavy water — the key to Germany’s development of an atomic bomb. It was imperative to slow or stop the Nazis from getting this weapon of mass destruction before the Allies did. To do this, Brits and Norwegian resistance fighters teamed up in an extraordinary series of heroic actions.
While Sheinkin had to treat that as just one factor among many in his book, Bascomb focuses entirely on this amazing episode. And believe me — there is plenty to tell! The bravery and coolheadedness, audacity and unqualified devotion to their homeland of these young Norwegian men, is far beyond a meek word such as “inspiring.” It’s jaw-dropping. It’s profoundly thought-provoking. Sobering. Captivating.
At 255 pages, this account is a bit more technical and, obviously, far more detailed than the broader, slightly-more accessible Bomb. For readers hungry for true stories of espionage and bravery, it’s a fabulous choice.
Another plum pick along these same lines is a book I reviewed a while back:
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. You can read my review here.
And a tremendous fictional account based on the Norwegian resistance:
Shadow on the Mountain, by Margi Preus; read my review here.
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolph Hitler, by Russell Freedman
published in 2016 by Clarion Books
“What we have said and what we have written is what so many people believe, only they don’t dare speak up.” These were the unflinching words of Sophie Scholl, age 21, at her 1943 trial in Munich, just hours before she was beheaded for her work in the resistance movement known as the White Rose.
Scholl, her brother Hans, and a cadre of other young German students, lived out their impassioned conviction that Hitler and the Nazi movement must be defied. Having risen through the ranks of the Hitler Youth, they increasingly found themselves disillusioned, and finally at complete odds with the philosophy, the unthinking robotic obedience, and the horrendous crimes against humanity perpetrated by their own government.
At the risk of their lives, they formed a club known as the White Rose and proceeded to be the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling their countrymen to conscience and resistance. This sobering, powerful account of their young lives and early deaths is exceptionally thought-provoking. Freedman is a non-fiction master. Even with its shorter page count of 87 pages, I consider this material best for ages 14 through adult.
A chilling, at times raw, account of the millions of boys and girls swept into Hitler’s Youth and what became of them is given in Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Newbery-Honor, Sibert-Honor title:
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, published in 2005 by Scholastic.
The story of the Scholls is woven into that account as well. At 157 gripping pages, it contains the most distressing details of any of the previous titles. Chilling and gripping.
Tomorrow I’ll have some titles geared for younger ages telling brave stories of many people who risked their lives to save the Jews from Hitler’s madness.