The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground

Michael Harris, Author Presidio Press $24.95 (262p) ISBN 978-0-345-48154-2
Life on Eniwetok Atoll in the 1950s was a case of the doldrums punctuated by massive blasts, a pattern that mirrors Harris' memoir of his time as a drafted soldier stationed far out in the Pacific during a series of hydrogen bomb tests, twelve of which Harris witnessed sans protective goggles. (The money initially earmarked for enlisted men's goggles was diverted to buy new furniture for the colonel's house. ""Goggles are important,"" Harris is told. ""But the colonel's furniture is important, too."") Harris, also the author of the Ed Sullivan biography Always on Sunday, uses a chatty, dead-pan voice that highlights the horrifying absurdity of life on the island: the use of Geiger counters to monitor scrambled eggs' radiation level, three-eyed fish swimming in the lagoon, corroded, permanently open windows that fail to keep out the radioactive fall-out and enlisted men whose toenails glow in the dark. Between bomb blasts, life on the island is fairly dull, however, and the book suffers from the monotony. There are long sections about typing, headaches and movies, and Harris tries to enliven the narrative by describing fellow soldiers who are driven mad by life on ""The Rock,"" but these characters never amount to more than their anxieties and freak-outs (comical though they may be). An entertaining read in the bloodline of Catch-22, Harris achieves the oddest of victories: a funny, optimistic story about the H-bomb.
Reviewed on: 09/01/2005
Release date: 09/01/2005
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