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I am a firm believer that children learn more, and retain more of what they learn if you can relate a subject to something that interests them. Since my son does have some interest in the military - and we were doing a military unit study anyway, this seemed like a brilliant addition to our studies.
I'm not sure whether to class this a science book or a history book. It is a little bit of both, giving a brief history of man's quest for better ways to kill men, from sticks and stones, to catapults and cannons before moving onto the main focus of the book - modern weapons. The newer weaponry includes atomic and hydrogen bombs, smart missiles e bombs and rather surprisingly and disturbingly - dolphins.
This book sounds like it might be a very gruesome book, but it is not. This book focuses on the science and technology that goes into building these weapons, with very little on the actual impact of the weapon. There is a two page section on landmines. The figures are staggering - 63,000 people have been injured or killed by land mines and other explosive weapons in Cambodia alone. The weapons were left over from the Vietnam War and Cambodia's own civil war. There are no photographs though or details of the injuries.
What I liked about this book is the way it explains exactly how many of these weapons work. Newton's three laws of motion are mentioned and a rocket flight is used to demonstrate these laws. Subjects include centrifugal force and even a simple and easy to understand section on how the atom is split. The differences between fission and fusion are explained, as well as the chain reaction that takes place when a nuclear bomb is detonated. and this did get my sons interest enough that I have thrown out my planned study schedule for the week to accommodate further study on many of these subjects. Thankfully I already happen to have the perfect book, but we had not used it yet. I prefer to study very complicated subjects only when something comes up to tie them into an interest my son has, or to answer questions. I feel when a child is asking questions - they are guiding the teacher to the subjects they want to learn.
My son was very interested in the catapult, especially when I mentioned possibly making a toy one. He was also fascinated by the nuclear explosions. There is a beautiful Mushroom cloud photo. He was very interested in how rockets work, although we have read some of this before in space books. I do believe repetition of facts help a child learn them too, and if it is done in the context of even slightly different subjects it remains interesting. We were side tracked a bit by the discussion of shock waves, and the relative speeds of light, sound and the actual impact of the shock wave. His father was able to give him a much more detailed description, having actually been caught in blast many years ago in city centre. We discussed the idea of an e - bomb, which should result in very little loss of life - but is a horrible weapon indeed to a child who realises this could wipe out his X-box! Very little information is given on the e - bomb though, as most of this information is classified top secret by the US military.
My son was not as impressed with the idea of using dolphins and sea lions in the military. The book states that the animals are never used to carry weapons or attack a ship - only to identify mines that will later be disabled by humans. This doesn't sound so terrible - but if this is all they do - why is dolphin related research among the most highly classified of anything the US military works on. We did discuss the idea of being dolphins being used for less peaceful missions and even did some research online. It turns out that although dolphins never carry weapons - during Hurricane Katrina a number of dolphins escaped a military facility. The reports claimed the dolphins "could be armed with toxic dart guns".* Did they arm themselves before escaping?? This was widely reported but I have only listed one source. After reading this - my son was not at all pleased and regards the idea as immoral as the dolphin can not choose to be a soldier or not. I agree, but at least this book has served as inspiration for a good discussion on ethics. So what do dolphins and e-bombs have in common? They are both top secret US military projects.
This book is an American publication, and very obviously so. All of the soldiers and equipment you see will be American, but there is also an American tone to the writing if that makes sense. I believe if the book had been written anywhere other than the USA, the pages on the military use of dolphins might have been more honest as well as mentioning the devastating effects this could have on wild dolphin populations. The US Navy itself has acknowledged that using dolphins as weapons could force other countries to destroy any dolphins near their ships. They won't be asking for name , rank and serial number first. Nor is there any mention of the fact that these dolphins had electrodes surgically implanted in their brains. The moral issues involved with some of these practices are never explored in this book, other than brief mention of Oppenheimer's objections to the hydrogen bomb. Mention is made of the threat to the world from countries like Iran, Korea and Pakistan trying to get the bomb and again I felt it was a very American perspective. I would also point out that while the use of land mines seems to be frowned upon - although there is no outright condemnation - the fact that many of those land mines in Cambodia carry US manufacturers stamps is not mentioned.
Overall I did really like this book. It is well illustrated, easy to read and understand, although I do feel the reading level is age 10+. It has some fascinating scientific facts that have inspired us to discover more. I can not fault the book on being very American. It was written for an American audience, most likely American school children,but every school board or teacher using this will be considering the parents reaction as well as the children's. I do strongly feel the dolphin section was dishonest though. I believe they either should have told the truth - or said nothing at all - so this book loses one star in my opinion. I would still recommend it though, especially to home educators looking for new and different ways to explore science. I believe this would be a useful addition to a science classroom. I also feel this book does have enough interesting information to satisfy a child's curiosity on how things work to make it useful just a non fiction book that boys will freely pick up and want to read. I bought this for my son - age 7, and as we were reading it together, and I am more than happy to stop at any point and explain things or look them online I feel this was very useful at his age. Without as much parental involvement though - I really would place this book at a higher age level of 10+. I feel the science aspects are very well explained,and I feel that older children could still learn quite a lot from this so I would easily say up to age 14, but I think adults could get something from the book as well.
I feel that wild claims to require some back up so here is one dolphin article. You can find many more by googling - "dolphins toxic dart"
* http:// www.guardian.co.uk/ world/ 2005/ sep/ 25/ usa.theobserver