This graphic novel, subtitled “J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb”, is a good quick read. It’s hard for my generation, raised with the fall of the Soviet Union, to appreciate how stupendous the atomic bomb really was. But this book does a great job of making the history of that period accessible. The book is not that short–around 200 pages–but, due to its graphic nature, is very easy to read.
Fallout is really divided into two major sections. The first is concerned with the idea and creation of the atomic bomb, starting from Szilard’s ideas in the 1930s and ending with the Trinity test in 1945. The second is concerned with the inquiry into Oppenheimer’s advisory position to the Atomic Energy Commission, which occured in the political climate of the 1950s. Both these are worth reading, but the second one, which has much more text–portions of letters are printed along with the graphics–is a chilling reminder of the craziness of that time.
With 6 different authors listed on the cover (and more in the back pages), the illustrations change often enough that you do have to pay attention to know who is speaking. Additional difficulties arise because there are so many characters. I think the book would be stronger if one author had been responsible for all of the graphic content because the characters would be easier to keep track of.
One very nice aspect of this book is the end notes. At the back of the book, extensive text outlines what parts are true and what parts are surmise. As the front of the book saysm “many of the quotes and incidents that you’ll think most likely to be made up are the best documented facts.” For example, Teller, one of the scientists, denies his similarity to Dr Strangelove, and another, Szilard, devises his own cancer treatment using radiation.
All in all, if you’re in for a light introduction to the history of one of the heaviest subjects, Fallout is a good choice.