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The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement Paperback – November 6, 2007

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465003486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465003488
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #739,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ronan Rooney on February 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I read this book a few summers ago, and I couldn't put it down. O'Neill's exhaustive research--including many personal interviews--helps solidify this book's place in the pantheon of great historical non-fiction of the 20th century. "The Firecracker Boys" picks up after World War II when the United States government, eager to find peaceful uses for nuclear power, proposed building a harbor near the remote Alaskan village of Point Hope using megaton nuclear explosions in a plan called "Project Chariot." The ambitious plan, which supporters felt could redeem nuclear weapons before the very eyes of a generation who saw its horrific power demonstrated on Japan, met fierce resistance among biologists, anthropologists, and most importantly local Alaska Native villagers of the region. These opponents feared radiation, debris fallout, and that the government continued to deny or downplay dangers of Project Chariot. O'Neill charts, in beautiful detail, the high-minded idealism of Project Chariot supporters against the burgeoning grassroots resistance which demanded fair recognition of Project Chariot's irreversible damage.

While Project Chariot first arrived, and met its doom, in a remote quarter of the globe, this story is firmly fixed on the world stage. This is not the anecdotal story of a failed gimmick; rather, this is the genesis of the movement towards limiting nuclear power, recognizing environmental impact, and treating Alaska Natives as more than haphazard bystanders to industrial progress. People, personalities, subplots, and larger impacts for the whole of humanity enliven this story and give Project Chariot a rich context. I whole-heartedly recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback
In 1956 the Suez Canal was nationalized which prompted the British and French to attach Egypt in order to secure the strategic passage. Although the conflict was ultimately settled by the United Nations, transportation through this region was halted for many months and the industrialized economies needed an alternative transportation route. During this same period the US and the Soviet Union were testing nuclear bombs and international community was requesting nuclear test-bans. Until reading this book, I was unaware the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) developed the Plowshare program to demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear blasts for civil engineering projects, namely the Panama canal. Given that non-military applications of nuclear bombs would have vast economic potential to reshape the globe, there was incredible pressure to locate a remote US territory where such a non-military nuclear blast could occur. Firecracker boys is the astonishing tale of Project Chariot, a Plowshare program aimed at excavating a large harbor in Point Hope, Alaska using nuclear bombs that would be 100+ times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from both the perspective of someone who has lived in Alaska and from the perspective of someone interested in federally mandated science projects. Dan O'Neill does a good job of distilling out the huge amount of information and misinformation that surrounds the events leading up to Project Chariots termination. This book describes the early days of nuclear testing, the scientific innovations that catalyzed many of today's current policies regarding nuclear energy and the personalities involved.
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If you want to know the true nature of American government, this is a must read book! Project Chariot is when the US government wanted to explode a nuclear bomb in Alaska, and the fight it took to prevent it. Today is a good day to read this because history is repeating itself........
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I have an Alaska background, am an environmental biologist, and was in the same university department with Bill Pruitt (one of the stars of this book) for several years - and yet I stumbled across this book by accident. Please don't just read it - also recommend it and loan it around to friends. Whether you care about Alaska, care about the environment, worry about things nuclear, worry about academic freedom's vulnerability to politics, or you like Dan O'Neill as an author (his "A Land Gone Lonesome" for example), you have to read and spread the word about this book. It's one you will not just read, but will re-read.
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Dan O’Neill’s excellent book, The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement, tells the story of Project Chariot.

It’s hard to comprehend the lunacy of it today, but Project Chariot was a serious proposal by the Atomic Energy Commission to “geographically engineer” a deep-water harbor on the northwest coast of Alaska by detonating a series of thermonuclear explosions. That’s right: hydrogen bombs.

Three major themes jumped out at me from the book.

First: There is an inexorable structural bias that causes local interests to be seduced by the promise of short-term financial benefits such as employment or tax revenues. That is why many local politicians, businesses and communities initially embraced Project Chariot, just as they do more contemporary examples like the Keystone XL Pipeline or oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s arctic.

Second: Development interests, often in the form of government, almost always provide reassurance that there is little or nothing to fear, whether in the form of nuclear radiation from Project Chariot blasts, human impacts on climate change, oil exploration in the arctic ocean, or mining activities in the headwaters of salmon streams.

Third: The most effective organizers operate at a grass-roots level. Project Chariot garnered the attention of local activists like Ginny Wood and Celia Hunter. Before long, they had helped organize the Alaska Conservation Society, which launched successful campaigns to establish what is now known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to defeat Project Chariot from proceeding.

These themes still resonate today across a broad spectrum of threats to the environment, ranging from climate change to fracking to offshore oil exploration.
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