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The Firecracker Boys Paperback – September 15, 1995


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (September 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312134169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312134167
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,098,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

The story of how we nearly Chernobylized our northwest Alaskan wilderness. O'Neill, a University of Alaska oral historian, builds on his previous studies of Project Chariot, a plan by the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s to use a thermonuclear blast to create a major harbor on the Alaskan coast. We are taken back to 1948, when a science writer at the New York Times gushed that work on the atom would usher in a ``new Eden'' where man would ``abolish disease and poverty, anxiety and fear.'' Atomic hubris is personified by O'Neill's Faust, Edward Teller, who wanted to nuke the world's ice pack and flood the deserts in what he called ``geographic engineering.'' Teller and others from the military and scientific communities were opposed by a vocal minority of Alaskans, by the first environmental activists (such as Barry Commoner), and by Arctic-loving scientists. (O'Neill delights in describing this last group eating parasites from dead caribou and crawling into dens to take the rectal temperatures of hibernating bears.) Because the stakes in this largely bureaucratic drama were so high, we can forgive O'Neill for demonizing the Atomic Energy Commission as ``little boys...with a pathological glee'' for setting off explosions. The proposed ground zero was a pristine spot called Tikiraq. O'Neill periodically breaks from the political wrangling to limn in glorious detail the richness of Arctic wildlife and Eskimo culture, rendering absurd the government promises to relocate natives and turn them into ``productive'' coal miners. For the first time, the Feds (obsessed with Reds) had to consider a people's irreplaceable loss of their ``way of life.'' Federal money for an O'Neill film on Project Chariot disappeared, but this book became his eloquent revenge. Eyebrow- and consciousness-raising at its ecological best. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Dan O'Neill is the author of A Land Gone Lonesomeand The Last Giant of Beringia. He was named Alaska Historian of the Year by the Alaska Historical Society for The Firecracker Boys. He lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 3, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Behind the blithe title of this book is a serious work. More, it's an important book. Its subject is Project Chariot, a proposed nuclear excavation on Alaska's Bering Strait. Project Plowshare, initiated in the late 50's, was the umbrella effort to put nuclear explosions to work for non-military purposes, and Project Chariot was billed as one of its first trials. The Firecracker Boys is the history of the conception, marketing, and eventual failure by the nuclear establishment in the face of a burgeoning environmental movement.
But the book is more than a history; it's the story of the the people on both sides of the fight, and of nuclear testing.There are few books which analyze the history of nuclear testing in the United States, and while detailing the story of Project Chariot, Dan O'Neill gives the most comprehensive history I've yet read of nuclear testing in general. This was surprising to me because I have been in search of such a book, and was delighted to discover it behind what would seem to be a narrow slice of the annals of nuclear testing.
O'Neill shows us the world of the Eskimos who, for centuries or longer, lived not far from the selected site of the harbor which was to be blasted from the Bering shore. We also get a view into the life and motivations of Edward Teller, the vociferous proponent of Plowshare's geographical engineering, and other nuclear scientists and officials: "If your mountain isn't in the right place, drop us a card". In addition, the Atomic Energy Commission, in an effort to appear interested in the safety of such a detonation, instituted a program of scientific studies of the site and of the Eskimos nearby.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Haslam on March 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
About a fascinating chapter in American history, and how the democratic process prevailed--barely--over the certain vested interests in the military-industrial complex. Makes Dwight Eisenhower look like a prophet--and also details some of the career of Edward Tellar, rightly celebrated as the father of the American H-bomb but then subsequently responsible for much bad science, including Ronald Reagan's Star Wars. This book is very well researched and documented. One moral to draw: citizens must be involved with public policy. The former Soviet Union, undertaking a similar project, turned areas of Siberia so radioactive that it will not be safe to dwell there for 10,000 or more years. We almost did the same in Alaska--but thankfully did not. Read this book to (1) understand how this disaster was averted, and what we can do to continue to safeguard our democratic processes; and (2) for great--true--story.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 1998
Format: Paperback
Deep and serious scholarship is rarely this readable! Dan O'Neill transforms the little-known drama of arctic whale-hunting Eskimos into a global issue, tracing their struggle against becoming a nuclear proving ground through the years 1957-1966. If you start to read this book as a thriller, you won't be disappointed. When you have finished reading it, you will have absorbed some significant historical insights.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ben Meyer on November 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
I cannot help but notcice how the reviewers which seem to have been deeply disgusted by this book prefer to remain anonymous. Even if their opinion is that nuclear testing should continue, it disturbs me that these reviewers were not taken aback by the colossal mountain of half-truths, misrepresentations, and downright lies that the AEC (Atomic Energy Comission) used to lobby this project to Alaskans.
And remember, these are the same guys who concluded that it would be acceptable to conduct underground nuclear tests near one of the most active fault lines in the world, on Amchitka Island out on the Aleutian chain.
I can only say that never again will I be able to look at a map of my state without imagining a "polar bear shaped harbor" etched in to the wind battered coast somewhere between Barrow and Kotzebue.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 10, 1996
Format: Hardcover
Classic cold war government decision making at it's best.
Full of good guys,
bad guys, PR fools, and the standard cast of characters
found in any project where money, power, self interest and
secrecy is involved.
O'Neill's notes on his interview with Edward Teller was a
fitting end to the book.
I do wish O'Neill would have tried a bit harder to get some
justification of the project from anyone who worked on the
AEC or Labs side.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John Aaron Atkins (jatkins679@aol.com) on September 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is excellent! It's just mind-boggling to imagine that Teller and his boys (hence the title) almost got away with exploding a nuclear "device" near Kotzebue under the guise of creating a deep-water harbor... The absolute apathy and ignorance of many Interior Alaskans and the lap-dog behavior of many at the Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks and local media is really disappointing... A excellent read about a near disaster of our times (many of the characters are still alive and some still are involved at UAF, my alma mater)... Think Alaska is pristine and still pure? Think again... The heroes of this book, while many of them paying a great price, are given the attention they deserve in this piece of wonderful writing...
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