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The Atomic Express Paperback – January 1, 1997
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From the Publisher
Praise for Miller's earlier, nonfiction book, Under The Cloud: "Richard Miller's account of United States and Soviet efforts to develop the bomb and the history of nuclear testing in the U.S. from the first bomb up to the abolishing of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1974 is outstanding." -Rosalie Dunbar, the Christian Science Monitor. Jan 31, 1987.
"Why then should this book be published at this time? Perhaps it is part of the Soviet-sponsored campaign to stop all nuclear tests, similar to the "ban the bomb" propaganda of the early 1960s." -Dixie Lee Ray, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. Washington Times, Oct 27, 1986.
"Drawing his material from government files, Miller gives a thorough and formal look at the key events and the little-known side effects of all that was taking place. . .the material is enough to make the story as fascinating as it is chilling."-Robert Merritt, Richmond VA Times-Dispatch Oct 19, 1986.
"The greatest virtue of Under The Cloud is that it makes nuclear weapons tests personal events, impossible to forget by those who participated in them and forgotten only with difficulty by those who come to understand that all of us have been unwilling and unwitting participants."-Gerald E. Marsh (Office of Arms Control and Defense Sciences at Argonne National Laboratory and co-author of Born Secret: The H-Bomb, the Progressive Case and National Security) writing in the New York Times. Oct 5, 1986.
"A chilling documentary history of America's above-ground nuclear tests conducted during the 1950s and early 1960s. Miller takes on the subject and universalizes it, giving it the flavor of a Dos Passos novel. . .scary stuff."-Kirkus Reviews Aug 15, 1986.
From the Author
"The Atomic Express is the definitive history of America's nuclear test program."
Top customer reviews
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Because "Under the Cloud" was so good, my expectations for "The Atomic Express" were lofty. One is almost forced to compare it with Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." Both novels have similarly bizarre and insane characters. Both involve ordinary men and women struggling to function in the stifling, mind-numbing and demoralizing bureaucracy in which they are trapped. Both have passages of witty, memorable dialogue that will make you chuckle at the absurdity of it all. And both offer madcap, tragicomic indictments of the lengths to which people in power will go to protect themselves from ever looking bad. In the comparison, however, "The Atomic Express" comes in a distant second.
I finally figured out why. In "Catch-22," the story took place against an exceptionally realistic background of a World War II medium bomber unit. The airfield, the B-25 aircraft, the crew briefings, the flight operations--all of the things with which the zany characters interacted were "true to life." In "The Atomic Express," however, the nature and characteristics of the nuclear weapons themselves--arguably the "stars" of the book--are not realistic. For example, here are two specific things that bothered me (without giving too much away). The "Cadillac" and "Mickey Mouse" bombs, I thought, were ridiculous. Normally, I can easily suspend my disbelief and enjoy the most far-out science fiction story, but in this novel those "bombs" were too far removed from any semblance of reality. Another thing that kept jarring me were some characters' frequent references to making a thermonuclear bomb by simply adding some lithium deuteride to an atomic bomb. It's not that simple. One of the most difficult challenges facing the designers of the first thermonuclear, or "hydrogen," bomb was to figure out how the explosion of the fission "primary" could be made to compress and ignite the lithium deuteride "secondary" before the bomb blew itself apart. The idea of just detonating an atomic bomb near "twelve hopper cars of lithium deuteride" to create an enormous thermonuclear explosion, as suggested in "The Atomic Express," is absurd. Yes, I know it's "fiction," but even in fiction it's important for an author to present accurate scientific facts, especially in such a technical field as nuclear physics.
So, on balance, I give "The Atomic Express" three stars. By all means, read it if you are at all interested in or intrigued by the subject of nuclear testing. It is well-written, there are many really good passages, the characters are well-drawn, and the story is interesting enough to keep one engaged throughout. But it is just a little TOO far out into the realm of fantasy for me to give it a stronger endorsement.