Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Topics in Literature & Society: Nuclear Fictions

ENGL 393.601
instructor(s):
W 5:30-8:10

Many different kinds of stories concern the building and development of nuclear weapons in 1945. Some claim to be autobiographies or biographies, others claim to be histories, and still others call themselves fictions (some even seem to be poetry or plays). These stories and the ways in which they construct our understanding of "the" story are the subject of this course. We will look at how that part of the history of twentieth-century physics summed up as "the Manhattan Project" has been presented in a variety of verbal and visual media.

Readings will include works of journalism and history such as John Hersey's *Hiroshima* and Richard Rhodes' *The Making of the Atomic Bomb*; memoirs and biographies by people who built and by other people who survived the bomb, among them Robert Oppenheimer, Laura Fermi, Richard Feynman, General Groves, and Hara Tamiki; plays such as Friedrich Durrenmatt's *The Physicists* and Michael Frayn's *Copenhagen*; novels such as Masuji Ibuse's *Black Rain* and Nicolas Mosley's *Hopeful Monsters*; and some general works about the relationships between science and society.

An important note: It is *not* necessary to be a physicist to take this course. The instructor teaches literature, not physics.