Atoms in the Family: My Life With Enrico Fermi by Laura Fermi

Atoms in the Family by Laura FermiThis is truly an amazing book about an inspiring family. Enrico Fermi was a physicist who quite literally gave his life researching nuclear science. He is one of the many scientists we can thank for nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

Laura Fermi gives a rare view into the life of one of the great scientists of the twentieth century. Fermi and his family are Italian. They lived in Italy during the rise of Mussolini. When it became apparent that Mussolini was going to cow to Hitler’s demands to ostracize Jews they decided to flee. The problem was, Laura and the kids were Jewish.

This book is the story of Laura and Enrico. How they met, how they fled and came to America where Enrico became one of the many people shipped around the country to work on the top secret Manhattan Project.

For years Laura didn’t even know what her husband was doing. She knew they were moved to Chicago and then to Los Alamos. She knew he was working for the government and she knew many of the scientists that he worked with. She knew it was for the war. But, like most of the families she didn’t know what they were doing until the bomb dropped. Then everybody knew.

This is a powerful story about a family, made especially powerful by Laura’s wit and wisdom in how she tells it. She doesn’t seem to sugar coat things. She describes herself and her husband — who she refers to as Fermi, throughout — in frank terms and details some amusing tidbits about his personality that make him sound hard to live with.

This is one side of the war. This is living through all the secrecy. This is the story of one family and their journey to do their part to stop a war that spread across continents and devastated entire countries.

It’s also a love story. It wasn’t love at first sight. In fact there was very little Hollywood style about their lives. But that’s what makes it so real. These were real people. They loved each other. They raised a family, changed the world and built the first nuclear bomb.

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