In the mid-1950s, Kurt Vonnegut takes a job in the PR department at General Electric in Schenectady, where his older brother, Bernard, is a leading scientist in its research lab - or "House of Magic". Kurt has ambitions as a novelist, and Bernard is working on a series of cutting-edge weather-control experiments meant to make deserts bloom and farmers flourish.
While Kurt writes zippy press releases, Bernard builds silver-iodide generators and attacks clouds with dry ice. His experiments attract the attention of the government; weather proved a decisive factor in World War II, and if the military can control the clouds, fog, and snow, they can fly more bombing missions. Maybe weather will even be - as a headline in American Magazine calls it - "The New Super Weapon". But when the army takes charge of his cloudseeding project (dubbed Project Cirrus), Bernard begins to have misgivings about the use of his inventions for harm, not to mention the evidence that they are causing alarming changes in the atmosphere.
In a fascinating cultural history, Ginger Strand chronicles the intersection of these brothers' lives at a time when the possibilities of science seemed infinite. As the Cold War looms, Bernard's struggle for integrity plays out in Kurt's evolving writing style. The Brothers Vonnegut reveals how science's ability to influence the natural world also influenced one of our most inventive novelists.
©2015 Ginger Strand. Recorded by arrangement with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (P)2015 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
"Sean Runnette delivers a solid, engaging narration. His conversational tone makes listening smooth and easy to follow." (AudioFile)
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Strand wrote a meticulously researched dual biography of scientist Bernard Vonnegut (1914-1997) and his brother fiction writer Kurt (1922-2007). The primary focus of the book is late 1940’s to the early 1950’s when both brothers worked at General Electric Company. Bernie left MIT research meteorology laboratory in 1942 and went to work for GE on the “Project Cirrus” a weather modification research project. After returning from the War (“Slaughterhouse Five” was his War novel), in 1947 Kurt went to work at GE in the PR department. At the time GE wanted journalist who could place stories in the New York Times and other key publications.
When Bernard realized that manipulations of the weather were seen as a potential weapon he pressed for government oversight of the project. Kurt complained that many scientists, at GE and elsewhere, seemed indifferent to the consequences of their discoveries. In my opinion, Kurt’s novel “Cat’s Cradle”, makes more demanding claims about the ethical responsibilities of scientists than Strand acknowledges. Strand claims that the origin of many of Kurt’s concerns regarding, ethical responsibilities of science, started with his employment at GE.
Strand’s thoughtful history, drawn from abundant archival sources, recounts the brothers’ repeated frustration and disillusionment as they confronted the unsettling ethical questions of the time. Sean Runnette does a good job narrating the book.
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