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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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