From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes the gripping, untold story of a renegade group of scientists and spies determined to keep Adolf Hitler from obtaining the ultimate prize: a nuclear bomb.
Scientists have always kept secrets. But rarely have the secrets been as vital as they were during World War II. In the middle of building an atomic bomb, the leaders of the Manhattan Project were alarmed to learn that Nazi Germany was far outpacing the Allies in nuclear weapons research. Hitler, with just a few pounds of uranium, would have the capability to reverse the entire D-Day operation and conquer Europe. So they assembled a rough and motley crew of geniuses -- dubbed the Alsos Mission -- and sent them careening into Axis territory to spy on, sabotage, and even assassinate members of Nazi Germany's feared Uranium Club.
The details of the mission rival the finest spy thriller, but what makes this story sing is the incredible cast of characters -- both heroes and rogues alike -- including:Moe Bergm, the major league catcher who abandoned the game for a career as a multilingual international spy; the strangest fellow to ever play professional baseball.Werner Heisenberg, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist credited as the discoverer of quantum mechanics; a key contributor to the Nazi's atomic bomb project and the primary target of the Alsos mission.Colonel Boris Pash, a high school science teacher and veteran of the Russian Revolution who fled the Soviet Union with a deep disdain for Communists and who later led the Alsos mission.Joe Kennedy Jr., the charismatic, thrill-seeking older brother of JFK whose need for adventure led him to volunteer for the most dangerous missions the Navy had to offer.Samuel Goudsmit, a washed-up physics prodigy who spent his life hunting Nazi scientists -- and his parents, who had been swept into a concentration camp -- across the globe.Irène and Frederic Joliot-Curie, a physics Nobel-Prize winning power couple who used their unassuming status as scientists to become active members of the resistance.
Thrust into the dark world of international espionage, these scientists and soldiers played a vital and largely untold role in turning back one of the darkest tides in human history.
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.
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Kean Eye For Detail
Sam Kean impresses for a 5th time.
As a World War II chronicle, The Bastard Brigade, and Sam Kean, can sit proudly on a bookshelf next to authors like James Bradley and Bill O’Reilly. This was an excellent collection of little known events with great historical significance. Sam weaves these events together with the same brilliant style he used in his previous books; with step by step explanations in the evolution of the sciences. In this case, nuclear fission is served to you from its infancy to its fruition in an enlightening and entertaining manner. When an opportunity arrives to achieve a deeper understanding, it should not be ignored.
An outstanding read!
As in his other books, Sam Kean effortlessly weaves together history, science and biography into a book the recounts a lesser known story of WW2. Unlike his previous works, where each chapter is largely a stand alone anecdote, The Bastard Brigade lays out a complete narrative describing developments in nuclear physics alongside the onset and events of the war. Scientists, both famous and lesser known, become the heroes, villains, or unwilling participants in a battle for scientific and military supremacy. I highly, highly recommend this book for any Sam Kean fan, or anyone interested in learning more about the scientific frontlines of WW2.