This is the nervous time – my upcoming book, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, is completely finished and advance copies are out there and we’re just waiting to hear what people think. So I was very excited to see that the first review, from Kirkus, was a good one – a star! Here’s what they said:
Following his award-winning World War II–era volumes Bomb (2012) and The Port Chicago 50 (2014), Sheinkin tells the sweeping saga of the Vietnam War and the man who blew the whistle on the government’s “secret war.”
From 1964 to 1971, Daniel Ellsberg went from nerdy analyst for the Rand Corp. to “the most dangerous man in America.” Initially a supporter of Cold War politics and the Vietnam War, he became disenchanted with the war and the lies presidents told to cover up the United States’ deepening involvement in the war. He helped to amass the Pentagon Papers—“seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years”—and then leaked them to the press, fueling public dissatisfaction with American foreign policy. Sheinkin ably juggles the complex war narrative with Ellsberg’s personal story, pointing out the deceits of presidents and tracing Ellsberg’s rise to action. It’s a challenging read but necessarily so given the scope of the study. As always, Sheinkin knows how to put the “story” in history with lively, detailed prose rooted in a tremendous amount of research, fully documented. An epilogue demonstrates how history repeats itself in the form of Edward Snowden.
Easily the best study of the Vietnam War available for teen readers. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)
One of the best things about my job is that when I do speaking events, people almost always come up to me and tell me about family connections to one of the stories I’ve written about. This is especially true since Bomb came out – about 200,000 people worked on the Manhattan Project, so it makes sense that they’d now have descendants all over the country. I’ve also met more than a few folks who insist they are related to Benedict and Peggy Arnold!
This week, at a visit to the Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, two Korean War vets told me an amazing story about their own close brush with history. This goes back to early 1953. One of the men, Frank Barron, was a young officer aboard a destroyer, the USS Eversole. They received urgent orders to sail for Guam and escort an ammunition ship, the USS Chara, from Guam to the American base in Yokosuka, Japan. Barron’s ship met the Chara, and they set out for Japan.
“The standard procedure,” Barron recalls, “was to be stationed 2,000 yards directly ahead of the ship which was being protected, theoretically from submarines.” They sailed in this formation for a full day and night. Then, suddenly and without explanation, the Eversole was ordered to move 40 miles ahead of the Chara. This seemed very strange to Barron. Why were they to suddenly abandon the ship they were protecting? The orders were clear, though. The Eversole cruised ahead. “Within a few hours the order came back to resume normal steaming and course,” Barron says. “Everyone on the ship was really curious what that was all about.”
And Barron remained curious – for over 60 years.
In the spring of 2014, at a farmers market in Rome, Georgia, Barron ran into Buddy Andrews, a man he’d known since their school days in Rome. They got to talking over old times, including their military service. Incredibly, it turns out that Andrews, also a young naval officer in 1953, had been a crewmember aboard the Chara at the time of the mysterious incident in the Pacific. Barron and Andrews started comparing stories, and, finally, Barron was able to piece together exactly what had happened.
In one of the holds of Buddy Andrews’ ammunition ship was an atomic bomb. The Chara had been ordered to deliver the bomb to Japan. President Eisenhower had just taken office. He had vowed to end the Korean War, but was stuck in contentious negotiations with China and North Korea. The bomb, Barron and Andrews believe, was meant to be influence those talks. And it may well have; an agreement ending the war was signed soon after.
Barron also learned that, during the trip to Japan, a crewmember aboard the Chara had carelessly tossed a cigarette into a bucket filled with oil-soaked rags. A fire started to spread. This explains why the Evesole was ordered to speed away – the idea was to get to a safe distance in case the bomb aboard the Chara was accidentally ignited. Luckily the fire was extinguished, and that’s when Barron’s ship was told to resume its normal position in front of the Chara.
Mr. Buddy Andrews (left) and Mr. Frank Barron share an amazing story from sixty years ago.
“Well, that’s the story,” Barron told me, “and it was interesting tidbit from the Korean War.” Yet another reason why I love my job.
I’m excited to share the newest edition in my “Walking and Talking series” – the basic idea of the series it to interview authors I meet in my travels, and then draw short comics of our talks. This new one features one of my favorite YA writers, Andrew Smith. I loved hearing about his process, which is as different from mine as it’s possible to be, and was especially intrigued to find out that his novel Grasshopper Jungle actually began life as a comic!
“This happened in the summer of 2011,” he told me, “in America, we were going through this terrible economic crisis, almost a great Depression, and I saw it as a high school teacher, I saw students of mine who lost their homes, I saw students whose parents both lost their jobs, and students who had older brothers or fathers who were serving in Afghanistan – and I was thinking, what could possibly be darker than the United States of America in 2011? So I started this comic, and it was called Dystopia USA – and the characters in it were Austin and Robby and Shann, and it took place in this recession racked town in Iowa, and so I started drawing it and I thought, I’m putting so much time into this, and I really like the story, so I just stared writing the words instead.”
Great stuff, but just couldn’t fit in a couple word bubbles.
First off, I just have to share the link to an amazing stop-motion animation, made by some teenage students for the great 90 Second Newbery Film Festival. Okay, so it’s more than 90 seconds, but the animation and voice-overs are sheer genius. I only wish a festival like this existed when I was in school.
And speaking of animation, I know how hard it is to do. My kids and I have been getting into some Lego animations, and it definitely takes a lot of time. Here’s a link to our first effort, THE NIGHT IN SPOOKYVILLE Yes, we’re pretty proud of this graveyard set!