"My father studied thermonuclear reactions. He could explain Nagasaki at the subatomic level."
Welcome to Livermore, California, the early 1980s. Gene Harland introduces you to a world of Cold War politics, swimming pools, crushy love, and genuine loss in Jim Nelson’s new novel Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People. Growing up in sleepy suburbia surrounded by nuclear scientists, teenage Gene witnesses firsthand the culture of arms development and the collision of pure research with Cold War defense. It’s 1983 and Ronald Reagan has declared the Soviet Union the Evil Empire. The President calls on the scientists of Livermore to develop a defense system protecting the United States from nuclear missile attack. Gene’s father has spent the last fifteen years inventing and improving weapons of mass destruction, and now he leads the team behind the Strategic Defense Initiative creating “a shield not a sword.”
Skeptical seventeen year-old Gene sets out to wage his own kind of Cold War. He stages a mock protest on the high school quad to rattle the administration’s cage—and then is invited to Sacramento to receive the civic recognition of the California Assembly. He falls in love with the school misfit, a girl with a wild past and a wicked sense of flirtation. Then Gene visits Las Vegas with his father for an underground nuclear test and discovers the terrible secret of his father’s space shield.
By the conclusion, Gene learns what he stands to lose by alienating himself from the world…and what he stands to lose by engaging with it.