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Children’s Book Committee – December Pick

December 1, 2015


Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
(Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan)

The Vietnam War’s history woven with Daniel Ellsberg’s personal odyssey culminates in his leaking the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the war. Photos. Bibliography. (14-18)

Our Young Reviewer says:

Most Dangerous was without a doubt one of my favorite books ever. When I noticed what the book was about; I was immediately intrigued. In my opinion American politics are fascinating. However, that being said; I normally do not enjoy non-fiction as much as fiction. I was intrigued by the subject of the book, but also skeptical because I knew it was non-fiction. Then I started reading and I loved every second of it. I completely forgot that it was non-fiction I was reading because Daniel Ellsberg’s story reads like a spy/soldier novel. Steve Sheinkin does an excellent job at the beginning by drawing the reader in with a top secret mission and then introducing Ellsberg. Sheinkin begins chapter one with the question that every reader has: who is Daniel Ellsberg, and what did he do? In this way a reader feels compelled to understand who Daniel Ellsberg was. After the small anecdote of the break in, Sheinkin talks about how Ellsberg got into politics, what it was like, and how it worked. To me, that was a gold mine. I have ambitions to one day go into politics, but I also recognize that for a majority of high school students all the names and position titles do not mean as much. I think Sheinkin did the right thing in giving the background and set up; because without it a reader does not fully understand what happened, but many readers will feel bogged down by facts and small stories of the past that do not have meaning to them.

When Ellsberg goes into Vietnam personally, the story takes on more life. To many readers, hearing about gruesome details is hard, but war and action in general hold their attention. I enjoyed the way in which it changed Ellsberg’s mind about the war. Being in the area and seeing the things he sees changes who he is and convinces him the war is wrong. I think Sheinkin should have put more of an emphasis on how important that is. That would be a valuable lesson for readers; that somethings may seem like a good idea when glanced at, but up close and personal they are much harder to digest.

Now, part 2 of the book is amazing. The secretive way in which Ellsberg has to live his life is reminiscent of a James Bond movie without the guns and violence. Also, the way that Ellsberg has to wrestle with the decision of what he is doing and its consequences present to the reader the question of whether or not he was right. Regarding this topic; I think that Sheinkin does a sub par job. Officially in the book; he has no real thesis statement where he says that he is going to prove Ellsberg was a hero, and throughout the book Sheinkin works to stay neutral,  but as with any author; there is language and perspective that makes it clear that Sheinkin believes Ellsberg did the right thing. In my opinion, unless there is a clear thesis Sheinkin needs to do a better job of keeping his position unknown and only presenting the facts.

After reading part 2; I was addicted to the story of the Pentagon Papers and what they were, but part 3 made it even better. The way in which Sheinkin tells the story of multiple newspaper companies being issued court orders, and the way loopholes were found was amazing. The courage and righteousness these newspapers had is astounding. However, the best part of the whole book are the anecdotes about how the papers were obtained. The untraceable methods used by the secret society surrounding Ellsberg were the coolest things ever. Even in words; it felt as though there was something at stake for me as well as the people in the book. In conclusion, everything about this book made me love it from beginning to end. I finished and understood so much more about the Pentagon Papers and who Daniel Ellsberg was.

-Adam, 15, Highland Park, NJ

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