Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dark Sun

On Nov. 4, 1964, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz featured Linus reading “The brothers Karamazov.” Charlie Brown asked him if reading all those Russian names – and trying to keep the characters straight in his head – bothered him. Linus said no, adding that when he came to a difficult Russian name “I just bleep through it.”

That’s how I feel thusfar reading Richard Rhodes’ “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.”

As much as I enjoyed Rhodes’ “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” I’m having difficulty with its follow-up. I blame the Russians. So far, 130-some-odd pages into the book and there’s little science, but a lot of international espionage on a mass-production scale. I know Rhodes rhetorically is working to build up to the Cold War arms race with this detail, but I’ve got to say that I’m disappointed thusfar in the book as it deviates from Rhodes’ concentration on the scientific and personal details of the development of the bomb and of the scientists behind it, as in his earlier book.

Maybe if I imagine one of these Russian spy geniuses (or one of their American spies) as William Shatner, that’ll help me get more engaged in the book.

It’s not that the spy stuff is boring. It’s just not what I expected from Rhodes, who did so well with the scientific stuff in his earlier book. I’m certain he gets more into that later in this volume, but to have to swim through all the cloak-and-dagger to get there is a bit disheartening. Rhodes’ handling of the technical stuff was vivid enough in “Atomic” that I looked forward to it in this volume. He’s one of those few authors who can turn technical stuff into riveting reading. He’s also one who doesn’t stint on research and helping his readers find immediate relevance in the material he presents. I’m finding that missing in “Dark Sun.”

And maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m bringing in unrealistic expectations for Rhodes may have a slightly different agenda in mind with this book. And I must concede it is interesting to see how much the Soviet Union relied on espionage to build its industrial base during World War II, on top of working to steal atomic bomb secrets. Also interesting is how much the United States tried to conceal from its own allies – even England – during the war. So I’m slowly getting into what Rhodes is writing here, though I reserve the right to be disappointed.

No comments: