Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Kate Brown's "Plutopia"

Kate Brown is Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland, winner of the American Historical Association's George Louis Beer Prize. A 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, her work has also appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, American Historical Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, and Harper's Magazine Online.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, and reported the following:
The premise of Plutopia is that the Soviet and American nuclear weapons facilities, though designed to destroy one another, rotated around each other on a common axis. The plutonium plants and cities built alongside them developed in tandem during the Cold War as spies and planners from each country closely watched developments in the other. Page 99 illustrates that connection. It depicts Lavrentii Beria, often described as Stalin’s henchman, but here serving as the efficient and commanding shadow minister of the secret Soviet bomb project. Beria is making a first inspection tour of the plutonium plant site in the remote forests of the southern Russian Urals. Beria’s cement-lined Cadillac has already gotten stuck on the muddy log road into the site and he is not impressed with anything else he sees. At the time, the slow pace of construction of the plutonium plant was braking the whole Soviet Manhattan Project, and Beria had come to speed it up. What he finds sends him into a fury. Not only is the plant nothing more than a swampy pit in the ground, but most of the construction workers were Gulag prisoners, hungry, dressed in rags, and sure, Beria suspected, to give away the secret of the Soviet bomb.
Learn more about Plutopia at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue