Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb is a real gem of a graphic novel, yet another stunning exemplar of what is possible with the graphic novel format.

As I’ve often said, there are basically two kinds of science graphic novels — those that use the format to illustrate the same content as a textbook would have on the theory that anything illustrated must be more accessible and enjoyable. And those that use the graphic novel format to its fullest, finding a new way to bring science to a mass audience. The latter, of course, if preferable. But I have to say the there is definitely a sub-genre of that preferred genre, one that uses the graphic novel to tell a science story in some sort of social, historical or scientific context. Logicomix and Feynman are two great examples of wonderful historical biography graphic novels.

And Trinity is a wonderful example of the graphic novel as social history of science.

It tells the story of the development and deployment of the first atomic bomb during World War II, from the beginnings of the Manhattan Project through to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their aftermath. For a fairly brief book telling a huge story, it covers a lot of ground but never feels rushed. A lot of characters walk on and off stage fairly quickly too — perhaps too quickly sometimes — but the story stays focused. There’s not a huge amount of scientific or technical detail by any means and not really anything that the average person couldn’t easily grasp but what is included is well-chosen. The political context is also covered very well and Fetter-Vorm does not shy away from dealing with the moral and ethical aspects of the use of nuclear weapons in World War II. Fetter-Vorm’s script is efficient and engaging with not too many words cluttering up the story but enough so that you’re never left wondering what the pictures mean. And his art is clean and dynamic yet perfectly evocative, not super-hero-y at all. Both story and art find just the right mood to tell the story

Fetter-Vorm even includes a nice little bibliography at the end.

I would recommend this book to any fan of non-fiction and science/historical graphic novels. Any library, public or academic, that collects graphic novels would do well to purchase this for their community. While perhaps a little grim for younger primary school students, it would be perfect for middle school and high school. Patrons of science and engineering libraries in particular would find this a great addition to the collection.

Fetter-Vorm, Jonathan. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. New York: Hill and Wang, 2012. 160pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809094684

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