Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb

Written by Jim Ottavani and Drawn by Steve Lieber, Vince Locke, Bernie Mireault, Eddy Newell and Jeff Parker

Publisher: G. T. Labs

Format: 240 pages, softcover, b&w, 7x10, $19.95 (order with code STAR14735)

Category: Young Adult Humor

Dewey: 355.8 OTT

Subjects: Comics, comic books, etc.; graphic novels, atomic bomb-history, nuclear weapons-history, science and scientists

ISBN-13: 9780966010633

Reviewed by: Kat Kan

Writer Ottaviani, who is also a librarian and was a nuclear engineer, has written a graphic novel based firmly on the facts, which tells the story of how Oppenheimer led a group of scientists into creating the atomic bomb, and the political fallout which affected him, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and many others. The story begins with Szilard in London, a refugee first from his native Hungary, and then from Nazi Germany. He sees the danger of Hitler acquiring a weapon using nuclear fission, and eventually succeeds in convincing Albert Einstein that the U. S. simply must beat Germany to the bomb. He and Enrico Fermi succeed in experiments which demonstrate the destructive power of nuclear fission, then the military steps in. General Groves oversees the Manhattan Project, which is led by Oppenheimer. The scientists at Los Alamos squabble over science, chafe at military secrecy, complain about their isolation, and build the bomb. Segue to the 1950s, when Oppenheimer goes before the Atomic Energy Commission's personnel security board to answer charges that he poses a security risk because of his political views. In the 1940s those leftist views were ignored; in the years of Senator Joe McCarthy's witch hunt against Communists, Oppenheimer became a convenient scapegoat.

While this story is not unknown, Ottaviani's inclusion of the actual letters from the AEC and Oppenheimer's reply, plus transcripts of some of the testimony by Oppenheimer and others, serve to let more readers know what really went on in those sessions. This cannot be read as a history text, for Ottaviani did take some liberties with some of the facts, but his extensive notes make it clear that he conducted considerable research to write this book. To me, the amazing thing is that he made science exciting. I love Richard Feynman's books, especially "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Fallout is much more serious, but accomplishes the same thing (Feynman appears in Fallout; he was the Los Alamos prankster and describes some of his hijinks in his book). Ottaviani made me keep reading until I finished, and I even understood some of the science. A whole bevy of artists lend their varying styles to the book: Janine Johnston, Steve Lieber (Eisner-winning artist of Whiteout), Vince Locke, Bernie Mireault, Jeff Parker, Chris Kemple, Eddy Newell, Jeffrey Jones, Tom Orzechowski, and Robin Thompson. I heartily recommend this book for high school and academic libraries as well as public libraries. Ottaviani makes science rock!