OH, PURE AND RADIANT HEART, by Lydia Millet
In the middle of the twentieth century three men were charged with the task of removing the tension between minute and vast things. It was their job to render asunder the smallest unit of being known to be separable from itself; out of a particle so modest there are billions in a single tear, in a moment so brief it could not be perceived, they would make the finite infinite.
Two of the scientists were self-selected to split the atom. Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi had chosen long before to work on the matter. . .
The third man was a theoretical physicist who had considered the subject of the divisible atom among many others. He was a generalist, not a specialist. he did not select himself per se, but was chosen for the job by a soldier.
From left: Oppenheimer, Fermi, Szilard.
Thousands worked at the whims of these men. From Szilard they took the first idea, from Fermi the fuel, from Oppenheimer both the orders and the inspiration.
And thus the novel begins, with those opening paragraphs. Its dramatic conceit is that at the moment of the detonation of that first bomb, the three men are catapulted over time and that they “wake up” in 2003 where they must look back at the results of their labors.
Welcome to the second meeting of BooBooks, the Booman Tribune book club devoted to delving into novels and non-fiction books that illuminate political issues.