tom weston media (2011)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (5/11)
“Fission” tells the tale of an extraordinary woman by the name of Lise Meitner, whose thirst for knowledge was so powerful that neither her gender nor her religion could stand in her way. Born in Austria in 1878, she studied physics at the University of Vienna and later left for Berlin, where she worked with Max Planck. The book describes her studies, her work with Otto Hahn, the flight from the Nazis, and offers a glimpse into her later life in Sweden and in England. While this is definitely a story about science and scientific discoveries that changed so many lives, this novel is by no means limited to that alone. History, particularly the days of utter insanity and annihilation of millions during Hitler’s reign, plays a large role in the narrative, and so do the intricate interactions between Meitner and her teachers as well as peers. Was she overlooked for the Nobel Prize because she was a woman? Or because she had to flee Germany due to having been born a Jewess (although she converted before the rise of the Third Reich)? Was that simply a convenient excuse for removing her name from all of the early research she performed with her colleague Otto Hahn?
There was this little notice saying “based on a true story” both on the cover page and on the back cover, but about a third into this fascinating book I simply had to check for myself. Lise Meitner? Instrumental for the discovery of nuclear fission, and with that for the atomic bomb itself? How come I’ve never heard of her? Was she even real?
After checking the Internet – and spending a couple of hours following the very fascinating true story of Lise Meitner, I returned to Tom Weston’s “Fission” with an even greater fascination. Yes, just as he claimed, he did not have to invent this truly bizarre story. It was all true.
Tom Weston’s “Fission” is an unforgettable book, and one that kept surprising me. He took a fantastic enough true story and transformed it into a quest for truth and recognition. His writing was fresh and fluid; and even the oftentimes difficult and controversial issues could not bog that down. The dialogues were vivid, the characters, most of which happen to be eminent historical figures, were believable. While any book dealing with the Third Reich and nuclear fission definitely runs the risk of being dark, overly dry and morose, Weston’s ability to tell the story in a compelling way kept it from such fate.
“Fission” will be a treat for anybody who enjoys well-written fiction based on real historical events, particularly those readers who are curious about science and who like strong female characters. While Lise Meitner certainly did not receive the deserved recognition during her lifetime, she did manage to live her life the way she wanted it to be – immersed in science. “Fission” is a fitting monument to her achievements, and one day I would love to see it as a movie.