Richard Rhodes

Reading recommendations from a writer of infinite curiosity.



Journalist and author Richard Rhodes has written on subjects that range from the life of painter and naturalist John James Audobon to the threat of mad cow disease.  His majestic history of the Manhattan Project, 1986's The Making of the Atomic Bomb, garnered  the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle award.  His latest, Hedy's Folly,  traces the life of actress Hedy Lamarr, whose surprising inventions in the field of radio are only now beginning to receive credit.   Here, Richard Rhodes offers three works from his own bookshelf -- as diverse in subject as his own career.


Books by Richard Rhodes




Nanjing Requiem

By Ha Jin


"Chinese writer Ha Jin's latest novel recreates the notorious Rape of Nanjing [sometimes written as 'Nanking' in the Wade-Giles Romanization of Mandarin] of December 1937. It's a grim story, but dramatic and powerful in its evocation of the complex responses people have to trauma. I was born in 1937 and have been curious lately about what happened in my birth year -- which is as good an excuse for reading a novel as any, yes?"



House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox

By William H. Foege


"Dr. Foege led the dedicated battalions of public health doctors who worked in South Asia and Africa in the 1960s and 1970s to eradicate one of humankind's greatest scourges, the first time in all of history that a human disease has been eliminated. As you read his memoir, think about the public health system as a model for controlling not only disease but also human violence."




Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life

By John Adams


"John and I keep crossing paths. His opera Doctor Atomic drew on my The Making of the Atomic Bomb; the overture to that opera alludes to the music of the avant-garde composer George Antheil, about whom I write in my new book on Hedy Lamarr. Which led me to want to know more about this important American composer's life. It turns out he writes as well as he composes."

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.