Bombs Over Bikini: The World’s First Nuclear Disaster, by Connie Goldsmith (2014)

Genre: Nonfiction
Interest Level: 10-16
Bombs Over BikiniAt just 88 pages, this slim title introduces children and teens to the nuclear bomb testing program the United States ran in the Marshall Islands, causing massive environmental damage and delivering lethal doses of radiation poisoning to unsuspecting residents and military personnel. Goldsmith began researching the topic after stumbling across an article about the Bikini Islanders who had been displaced by the testing program, unable to return even today. She provides a good overview of the context of the testing and simple explanations of atolls as well as fission and fusion bombs as she introduces readers to the topics. Primary sources are used to support the riveting story of how the islanders were assured of everything from safety to the ultimate benefit to humanity, only to be poisoned and lied to as scientists and military leaders focused their attention on the power of the nuclear bomb. Repeatedly deceived (and only sometimes unintentionally), the islanders grew to resent and distrust the word of both the U.S. military and government – “The American is a liar-man” (p.61). Goldsmith provides detail on three bombs – Able and Baker, fission bombs detonated in the air and water in 1946, and Bravo, a fusion bomb in 1954 that caused massive damage to coral reefs and poisoned nearby residents who had not been evacuated. Today, the testing zone is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reminding us of the global impact of the mid-20th century arms race. Source notes, a bibliography, and additional resources provide options for readers who want to know more. A review of the book in Kirkus questions the use of the term “first nuclear disaster” when referring to Bravo, detonated nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (The author’s explanation is that she uses disaster to mean unintended consequences.) Semantics aside, this remains a well-written and supported introduction to the testing program, certain to spark indignation and resolve in young readers interested in both history and environmental issues.
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