Saturday, November 29, 2008

109 East Palace by Jennet Conant

Whilst in Santa Fe this summer, we picked up a couple of books about Los Alamos and Robert Oppenheimer.

109 East Palace serves as an interesting and illuminating, if not stellar, social history about the creation of and living conditions at Los Alamos.

Using Dorothy McKibben, the Santa Fean who ran the small office which served as the entry point for the secret Los Alamos installation, as the entry point for the story, Conant's first intention seems to be to provide us with the look and feel of the war time home of many of the best scientific minds of the era. As long as she is working towards this end, her book works.

However, as she strays from this goal and begins to try to become more of an overall historian of the overarching events put into motion at Los Alamos, the book loses its focus and suffers from superficiality.

This superficiality became brutally apparent upon reading just a few pages of the other book we purchased in Santa Fe, American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin.

In comparison, American Prometheus is clearly the better crafted project but, considered on its own, 109 East Palace is a supremely serviceable entry into the subject matter.

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