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Review of Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb

bascomb_sabotageSabotage: The Mission to Destroy 
Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
by Neal Bascomb
Middle School, High School    Levine/Scholastic    
306 pp.
6/16    978-0-545-73243-7    $17.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-545-73533-9    $17.99

In this young readers’ edition of The Winter Fortress, Bascomb (The Nazi Hunters, rev. 9/13) turns his attention to a single, crucial Allied operation of WWII: the disruption of the Nazis’ atomic program by eliminating their supply of heavy water. Bascomb opens with a suspenseful prologue in which nine commandos ski through Nazi-occupied Norway in the dead of winter, getting their first sight of their target, the remote, seemingly impregnable factory at Vemork. “High on the icy crag, its dark silhouette looked like a winter fortress.” Bascomb then backtracks, describing the Nazi invasion of Norway and the Resistance movement that opposed it; the basics of the German atomic program and the properties of heavy water that were necessary to its development. He introduces and then follows each member of the coordinated missions intent on destroying the heavy water: Grouse, which set up the initial camp near Vemork; Gunnerside, trained to attack the factory; and later, the team that sank a passenger ferry transporting heavy water to Germany. There are many names to keep straight and much information to process, but Bascomb admirably balances dramatic tension and context throughout. We hold our breath to see if the ferry bombing is successful, but we are also confronted with the ethics of sacrificing civilian passengers’ lives. Sabotage will find its place in a growing body of narrative nonfiction centering on military and political history, including Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (rev. 11/12), of which this operation forms one strand. Appended with archival photographs and a wealth of back matter: an author’s note, an extensive bibliography, an index (unseen), and, most notably, twenty-one pages of source notes.

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. Danielle says:

    21 sources is quite an impressive amount! I really like the amount of work that was put into a book directed at teenagers, that authors often don’t do.

  2. thanks now I don’t have to read the book

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