Monday, June 10, 2013

The How and Why of The Bomb: Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm
Hill and Wang, 2012
In the early 1940s, The Manhattan Project was a perfect storm of a multitude of varied scientific genius, government will, funding and secrecy. The goal was to utilize the cutting edge of theoretical physics being developed around the world to develop a nuclear bomb for the United States before Germany and the Axis Powers came up with it. While there was no real threat that Germany could come up with an atomic bomb, the fear of that happening was enough to set into motion on of the largest and most complex scientific and military endeavors achieved by the human species. The final product was ultimately used to bring Japan to its knees and bring one of history's most brutal conflicts to a fiery close.

Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, a historical graphic novel now in softcover, is a straightforward, competently produced, fairly comprehensive (if brief) history of the science and the events that lead up to (and follow) the development of the U.S. nuclear weapon program at the height of the Second World War. There have been hundreds of volumes of material published about the Manhattan Projects, both on on the individual minds that developed the bomb and on the complex history of the project itself. Trinity does not get bogged down in detail - biographic or sociopolitical - and breezes through the scientific developments that lead up to the creation and aftermath of The Bomb.

Preaching about the pandora's box of nuclear weapons or moralizing about The Bomb's effects is an easy trap to fall into, one that Fetter-Vorm avoids. The horrors of The Bomb are undeniable, and Fetter-Vorm does not shy away from depicting them, but this is not the book's focus. He makes clear that the United States had limited options regarding Japan - if they didn't do something drastic then the War would have dragged on for years more as Japan was completely intractable. They didn't blink as the United States repeatedly firebombed their cities (which Trinity dutifully notes) killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. The Bomb happened, and Fetter-Vorm clearly explains how and why in a very short space.

The volume's brevity is not a weakness but a strength. Fetter-Vorm eschews over-focusing on the mercurial personalities of those involved, allowing him to be broadly comprehensive about the whole subject. Using his clear black-and-white illustrations he very cogently details how the nuclear science works and the innovations that lead up to the field's utilization and weaponizing. There is a refreshing clarity to Fetter-Vorm's explanations of the complicated science behind the bombs.

By no means is it a definitive treatise on the subject(s), but is most definitely engaging, fascinating and a very well-made look. There probably isn't a better starting point for learning about the Manhattan Project (and, like the biography Feynman - also new in softcover in the past month - presents an interesting counterpoint to Jonathan Hickman's popular mad-scientist alternate history sci-fi Image series The Manhattan Projects). There is almost a documentary quality to Trinity in its clarity, comprehensiveness and lack of fictionalization or preachification that should give it a space in every library or science teacher's desk, and may ultimately be the perfect tool to start learning about the complex history and science of the nuclear bomb and everything it entails.

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