This one… is a bit of an odd duck. It’s generally an alternate-history story featuring J. Robert Oppenheimer. At the same time, it’s more of a fictionalized biography of him, especially as the alternate part of history is largely minimized.

In fact, it doesn’t really split off into alt-history until about page 110 (and it’s not that long a book). There’s some minor bits before that, but that’s where it turns into something plot-driving. From there, there’s some real differences in the careers of the various people the plot follows, but at the same time, some big events still play out the same way, and transcripts from later government hearings are used to rebuild events.

Now, you have some of the finest minds of the 20th Century featured in this novel, and you have a big science-based problem for them to chew on. I’d expect the book to focus on scientific theorizing and questioning (as done very well in Inherit the Stars), but it doesn’t. It stays focused on the character-side of everyone’s lives, which means the actual plot never picks up a lot momentum.

Worse, the eventual solution comes a bit from the side, and has understandably lost some readers who’ve asked for explanations. I found it laid out well enough, but I have gigantic problems with innumerable logistic and engineering concerns that aren’t addressed at all. (We’re given a possible way out, and then it happens, with no look at a massive project whose budget would be completely in the top secret file.)

So, I can only give this a weak and qualified recommendation. From what very little I know, Sawyer does do a very good job understanding the characters of the major figures of the novel, and if you’d like to breathe some life into your knowledge of Oppenheimer, Szilard, von Braun, Feynman, and others, this will do it. The main plot however, never really delivers.