Scientists have always kept secrets. But rarely in history have scientific secrets been as vital as they were during World War II. In the midst of planning the Manhattan Project, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services created a secret offshoot - the Alsos Mission - meant to gather intelligence on and sabotage if necessary, scientific research by the Axis powers. What resulted was a plot worthy of the finest thriller, full of spies, sabotage, and murder. At its heart was the 'Lightning A' team, a group of intrepid soldiers, scientists, and spies - and even a famed baseball player - who were given almost free rein to get themselves embedded within the German scientific community to stop the most terrifying threat of the war: Hitler acquiring an atomic bomb of his very own.
While the Manhattan Project and other feats of scientific genius continue to inspire us today, few people know about the international intrigue and double-dealing that accompanied those breakthroughs. Bastard Brigaderecounts this forgotten history, fusing a non-fiction spy thriller with some of the most incredible scientific ventures of all time.
Science writer Kean (The Disappearing Spoon) switches topics with this sprawling history of the Western spies, soldiers, and scientists who worked to thwart Nazi development of a nuclear bomb, accompanied by helpful cartoon illustrations of the relevant scientific concepts. The chronological account begins by introducing a large cast, including Samuel Goudsmit, an emigre physicist; Moe Berg, a pro baseball catcher turned spy; Boris Pash, a WWI vet who commanded the book's titular brigade; and Navy airman Joseph Kennedy Jr., who died as part of a failed mission to destroy German missile bunkers suspected of being nuclear bomb silos. The point of view shifts among these and other characters, taking them through various adventures, including the bombing of a Norwegian ferry carrying heavy water for Nazi nuclear reactors and an attempt to assassinate German physicist Werner Heisenberg. Kean often takes a jokey tone, which readers will either love or hate (describing Marie Curie, he writes "the old lioness roused herself and barged into the lab"), and the majority of sources are secondary, leaving it unclear how he reconstructed dialogue. Readers who love spy stories will enjoy this entertaining book, but WWII aficionados and scholars may want to pass it by.