Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (2015)

most-dangerousThis tense story of a lesser-known figure from the Vietnam War era is a timely look at whistleblowing and patriotism.

Recommended grade level: 6-12

Pages:   384 (for ISBN 9781596439528)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, history, thriller, award winner

Tone/Style: informational

Pace: moderate

Topics: the Vietnam War, government secrets, peace movements, the news media, Watergate, information leaks

Themes: privacy, dissent, loyalty

Summary: From Steve Sheinkin, the award-winning author of The Port Chicago 50 and Bomb comes a tense, exciting exploration of what the Times deemed “the greatest story of the century”: how Daniel Ellsberg transformed from obscure government analyst into “the most dangerous man in America,” and risked everything to expose the government’s deceit. On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicians claiming to represent their interests. A provocative book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity, Most Dangerous further establishes Steve Sheinkin as a leader in children’s nonfiction. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Most Dangerous reads a bit like a cerebral spy thriller.  Those interested in secrets and conspiracies will gobble this up. Deep thinkers will be spurred to ask themselves questions about morality and patriotism for which there are no easy answers. As with all Sheinkin’s work, this will appeal to a wide swath of readers and will likely sway some fiction-only readers to give nonfiction a try.

Who won’t like this book?: This is a bit more rooted in politics and less rooted in action than some of Sheinkin’s other works. The moral questions posed may be over some readers’ heads.

Other comments: This is an incredibly timely peek into the past. If I didn’t believe before that history repeats itself, I certainly do now. Sheinkin includes a fascinating section at the end tying Ellsberg’s story to the story of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks. This is a 2015 National Book Award Finalist and the winner of the 2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Sequel(s):

Readalikes: In The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery, Sheinkin offers a close look at another morally murky figure from American history.  Though the Vietnam War isn’t a popular topic in young adult lit, there are lots of nonfiction books involving resistance and espionage from the WWII era, including The Boys Who Challenge Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose and The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb.

-Kylie Peters

Image source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23310694

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