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From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption—a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption—a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar life seeking redemption—and they find it together. “The most tender, terrifying, relevant book you’ll read this year.” —Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Lost Family Graduating from Harvard at the height of World War II, brilliant mathematician Charlie Fish is assigned to the Manhattan Project. Working with some of the age’s greatest scientific minds, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, Charlie is assigned the task of designing and building the detonator of the atomic bomb. As he performs that work Charlie suffers a crisis of conscience, which his wife, Brenda—unaware of the true nature of Charlie’s top-secret task—mistakes as self-doubt. She urges him to set aside his qualms and continue. Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda. At the war’s end, Charlie receives a scholarship to pursue a PhD in physics at Stanford—an opportunity he and Brenda hope will allow them a fresh start. But the past proves inescapable. All any of his new colleagues can talk about is the bomb, and what greater atomic weapons might be on the horizon. Haunted by guilt, Charlie and Brenda leave Stanford and decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to making amends for the evil he helped to birth into the world. Based on the life of the actual mathematician Charles B. Fisk, Universe of Two combines riveting historical drama with a poignant love story. Stephen Kiernan has conjured a remarkable account of two people struggling to heal their consciences and find peace in a world forever changed.


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From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption—a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar From the critically acclaimed author of The Baker’s Secret and The Curiosity comes a novel of conscience, love, and redemption—a fascinating fictionalized account of the life of Charlie Fisk, a gifted mathematician who was drafted into Manhattan Project and ordered against his morals to build the detonator for the atomic bomb. With his musician wife, he spends his postwar life seeking redemption—and they find it together. “The most tender, terrifying, relevant book you’ll read this year.” —Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Lost Family Graduating from Harvard at the height of World War II, brilliant mathematician Charlie Fish is assigned to the Manhattan Project. Working with some of the age’s greatest scientific minds, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, Charlie is assigned the task of designing and building the detonator of the atomic bomb. As he performs that work Charlie suffers a crisis of conscience, which his wife, Brenda—unaware of the true nature of Charlie’s top-secret task—mistakes as self-doubt. She urges him to set aside his qualms and continue. Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda. At the war’s end, Charlie receives a scholarship to pursue a PhD in physics at Stanford—an opportunity he and Brenda hope will allow them a fresh start. But the past proves inescapable. All any of his new colleagues can talk about is the bomb, and what greater atomic weapons might be on the horizon. Haunted by guilt, Charlie and Brenda leave Stanford and decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to making amends for the evil he helped to birth into the world. Based on the life of the actual mathematician Charles B. Fisk, Universe of Two combines riveting historical drama with a poignant love story. Stephen Kiernan has conjured a remarkable account of two people struggling to heal their consciences and find peace in a world forever changed.

30 review for Universe of Two

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    I’ve wanted to read a book by Stephen P. Kiernan for years, and in fact, I’ve bought his other books due to the great reviews. I’m happy to say Universe of Two lived up to my expectations, and I’m even more excited about the other books. What shines here most is the writing. In the 1940s, Charlie meets Brenda when he shops in her mother’s music store. Brenda is not interested in him, until he keeps coming to visit her. Charlie, a brilliant mathematician, is working on the Manhattan Project, which I’ve wanted to read a book by Stephen P. Kiernan for years, and in fact, I’ve bought his other books due to the great reviews. I’m happy to say Universe of Two lived up to my expectations, and I’m even more excited about the other books. What shines here most is the writing. In the 1940s, Charlie meets Brenda when he shops in her mother’s music store. Brenda is not interested in him, until he keeps coming to visit her. Charlie, a brilliant mathematician, is working on the Manhattan Project, which is a secret even to him. Eventually, Charlie is sent to Los Alamos in New Mexico, and Brenda joins him. Charlie is working for the government; unbeknownst to him, his work is on the first atomic bomb. Charlie comes to realize what it is he’s working on, and he desperately wants to quit. When the bombs are detonated in Japan, he and Brenda are devastated. The government pays for Charlie to get a doctorate, but everyone in the program is excited about atomic energy, and Charlie is having none fo it. He drops out and searches for something else to do to leave a positive mark on the world. Universe of Two is a stunningly told story of guilt and redemption. I loved these two complex main characters, and I found their story compelling and thought-provoking. Loosely based on the life of Charlie Fisk, the entire story felt authentic and resonant. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans. This is a good one. I received a gifted copy. All opinions are my own. Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader

  2. 4 out of 5

    DeAnn

    4 guilty conscience stars It is fitting that I finished this book on August 6, 2020 – 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima. This historical fiction book is based on Charles Fisk, a mathematician who played a strategic role in creating the detonators for the atomic bombs. This was a fascinating dive into history and the Manhattan Project. I didn’t realize that for many of the people involved the exact nature of what they were doing remained a mystery. The work they did was in i 4 guilty conscience stars It is fitting that I finished this book on August 6, 2020 – 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima. This historical fiction book is based on Charles Fisk, a mathematician who played a strategic role in creating the detonators for the atomic bombs. This was a fascinating dive into history and the Manhattan Project. I didn’t realize that for many of the people involved the exact nature of what they were doing remained a mystery. The work they did was in isolation and it was by design that the bigger nature of the project wasn’t widely known. In the book, the character is named Charlie Fish, and the author includes many familiar names Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer, just to name a few. There are plenty of other people involved that history has mostly forgotten. The book also features the character Brenda as Charlie’s love interest. She meets Charlie in Chicago at her family’s organ store and eventually follows him to New Mexico. One thing I found interesting to think about is how the people involved in this project viewed their role. In the book, Charlie is wracked with guilt about the part he played. He dwelled much more on the Japanese people killed and found it harder to focus on the number of lives it saved and bringing about the end of the war. Once the war was over, Charlie was recruited to a PhD program at Stanford, but efforts there were mostly focused on continuing to build future weapons of war. Charlie eventually left science to focus on his real love – organs. He built a highly successful organ company. I found it interesting that if you look up Charles B. Fisk, he comes up first as an organ builder and it’s more of a footnote that he was involved in the Manhattan Project. I enjoyed this one and it was good to learn more about this important time in our history. This was my second book by this author, I also liked "The Baker's Secret." Thank you to NetGalley, Stephen Kiernan, and Harper Collins/William Morrow for a copy of this one to read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kate Baxter

    4.5 / 5.0 stars Universe of Two was an exquisitely rendered fictional account of the life of Charles B. Fisk (a man whom I met shortly after graduating from college). Charlie Fish, (the fictional name used in the story) had been tapped for the Manhattan Project shortly after graduating from Harvard with a degree in mathematics. Soon he was coerced into creating the detonator for the atomic bomb, the time during which he developed a crisis of conscience (as did many scientists on the project). The 4.5 / 5.0 stars Universe of Two was an exquisitely rendered fictional account of the life of Charles B. Fisk (a man whom I met shortly after graduating from college). Charlie Fish, (the fictional name used in the story) had been tapped for the Manhattan Project shortly after graduating from Harvard with a degree in mathematics. Soon he was coerced into creating the detonator for the atomic bomb, the time during which he developed a crisis of conscience (as did many scientists on the project). The story is one of guilt, struggle, redemption and love. This is the second book of Stephen P. Kiernan's which I have read and loved; the first being The Baker's Secret. His extensive research into the life of Charles Fisk, the Manhattan Project, the science supporting that project, music repertoire, the mechanics of musical sound and organ construction had to have been Herculean. His ability to deftly craft a believable story, incorporating enough of the science to fill one's imagination of what Los Alamos was like without overwhelming them with the details, evidences his mastery of communication. His ability to draw the reader's empathy to the story's characters is no less of a gift. Having become acquainted with the real Charles Fisk, I was drawn to this book like a moth to a flame. I had not known until now, his involvement with the Manhattan Project. I knew him in his laters years, as a leader in the resurgence of sacred organ building based on historical instruments. He was a giant among his peers and a master of his craft. (I was part of a team which hired his firm to build an organ for All Saints Ashmont in Dorchester, Massachusetts - Opus 103.) Charles B. Fisk was a complex, brilliant and sensitive soul. This story beautifully expresses these qualities of this great man. I am grateful to Harper Collins Publishers for having provided a free advance reader's edition of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Their generosity, however, has not influenced this review - the words of which are mine alone.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    I won this ARC in a GR Giveaway. My thanks to GR, the publisher and the author, Stephen P. Kiernan, for giving me the opportunity to read and review this treasure of a book. All opinions are my own. As I said previously, WOW! This one will stay with me for quite some time. I won't give too much away, but I found it quite fitting, and just a bit eerie, that I finished reading this book on 8/6, the anniversary (8/6/45) that the American bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped a 5-ton bomb on the city of Hir I won this ARC in a GR Giveaway. My thanks to GR, the publisher and the author, Stephen P. Kiernan, for giving me the opportunity to read and review this treasure of a book. All opinions are my own. As I said previously, WOW! This one will stay with me for quite some time. I won't give too much away, but I found it quite fitting, and just a bit eerie, that I finished reading this book on 8/6, the anniversary (8/6/45) that the American bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped a 5-ton bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The book neither begins nor ends with the bombing or the Manhattan Project. Rather, the book starts with what will become a beautiful love story (but not a sappy one) that interweaves so, so well with the story of the building of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. I loved reading this. The book is loosely based on the real life of Charlie Fish, who was involved in the Manhattan Project. The book's character, Charlie, and later on his wife, Brenda, had no clue what part he comes to play in WWII as he was 'only a mathematician.' If this confuses you, read the book! The book was extensively and accurately researched. It was intelligently- and well-written. The characters so well described and defined, I felt like I knew and could picture each and every one. The intertwining of a love story with a war story took nothing away from each. It all felt so real that now I miss Charlie and everyone and want to read more. This was my first book by Stephen Kiernan, but it most certainly will not be my last. Very highly recommended!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    I have read all of Stephen Kiernan's books so I knew I was going to enjoy Universe of Two before I turned the first page. What I didn't realize was how deeply the book would affect me and that I'd still be thinking about it a week after I finished it. This is a beautifully written book about love and guilt and redemption. The year is 1943 and Charlie meets Brenda when he comes into the music store that her mother owns and she works at. At first, she didn't think much of him. She was more interes I have read all of Stephen Kiernan's books so I knew I was going to enjoy Universe of Two before I turned the first page. What I didn't realize was how deeply the book would affect me and that I'd still be thinking about it a week after I finished it. This is a beautifully written book about love and guilt and redemption. The year is 1943 and Charlie meets Brenda when he comes into the music store that her mother owns and she works at. At first, she didn't think much of him. She was more interested in all of the soldiers on leave who wanted to dance and pay attention to her. Charlie wasn't very impressive when he first asked Brenda to play a song for him on the organ but as he kept coming in to the store, she found herself looking forward to his visits. Charlie was a Harvard graduate, a brilliant mathematician and was working for the government on the Manhattan Project. He had no idea exactly what he was working on and only knew his small part of the entire project with the rest being kept in secret. When he is sent to Los Alamos, he and Brenda plan to write to each other but that was a poor substitute for being together so she joins him in New Mexico. Charlie knew that he was working on a project for the government but had no idea that they were creating the first atomic bomb. He only knew that he was creating a detonator. Once he realized what the project was all about, he wanted to quit when he understood the possible devastation of this bomb. Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda. When the war is over, the government agrees to pay for him to go to Stanford to get his doctorate but he finds everyone excited about the possibilities of atomic energy and realizes that he doesn't want to be part of it. He quit school and he and Brenda look for a career that will bring joy into the world and help to ease the guilt they feel over his part in building the atomic bomb. The writing in this book is exquisite and the characters are multi-dimensional - the reader sees the good and the bad in the two main characters. My prediction is that this will be a very popular spring 2020 novel. I already know that it will be in my top 10 books for the year. Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    There is so much in this gem, history, romance, philosophy, music, music, music. The music almost seemed a character. Not always an easy book to read. There had to be an unbelievable amount of research to get this book to publication (again, the history, bomb building, the music). As a former church organist, I understood the organ sections, especially the Bach Tocata and Fugue and playing "sick" instrument. I kept waiting for the "other shoe to drop" since the story is told partially through the v There is so much in this gem, history, romance, philosophy, music, music, music. The music almost seemed a character. Not always an easy book to read. There had to be an unbelievable amount of research to get this book to publication (again, the history, bomb building, the music). As a former church organist, I understood the organ sections, especially the Bach Tocata and Fugue and playing "sick" instrument. I kept waiting for the "other shoe to drop" since the story is told partially through the voice and experiences of the women who lived the story, but we quickly understand she is telling it from a much more modern (1986) date. If you haven't read Stephen Kiernan yet, this is a good place to start.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Anze

    Charlie Fish is a mathematician working in the University of Chicago when he gets recruited to work on a secret military project in New Mexico. Leaving behind Brenda, the girl he loves, he sets out to his new post, knowing only his destination but not much else. When assigned work, he is only given limited information about the whole project and is enouraged to "stick to his knitting". He does so but when he learns that the work he is doing clashes with his conscience, he turns to Brenda for adv Charlie Fish is a mathematician working in the University of Chicago when he gets recruited to work on a secret military project in New Mexico. Leaving behind Brenda, the girl he loves, he sets out to his new post, knowing only his destination but not much else. When assigned work, he is only given limited information about the whole project and is enouraged to "stick to his knitting". He does so but when he learns that the work he is doing clashes with his conscience, he turns to Brenda for advice. Without knowing the true nature of his job, Brenda encourages him to go ahead. When Japan gets bombed with nuclear bombs manufactured in New Mexico, both feel a great strain on their conscience. I have to start by saying that I approached this book with some trepidation. Having read The Baker's Secret some time back and not having exactly liked it, I genuinely did not know what to expect from this book. I can now say that this book fared much better with me. Charlie Fish is a bright young mathematician, a Harvard graduate that works in the University of Chicago. He suddenly gets a promotion and is sent to Los Alamos, New Mexico to work in a secret military project. Charlie only knows what work he has in front of him, that of soldering metals and making electrical circuits, but does not know what the project is about. When he becomes aware, he has a crisis of conscience. As Brenda is the person dearest to him, he asks her for advice. Brenda mistakes his hesitation for doubt in himself and encourages him to move forward. Charlie does but is only met with regret and doubt when he completes the work. What Brenda does not know is that his project is making the atomic bomb. This is a love story, a cautionary tale and story of regret & redemption all rolled into one. Narrated by Brenda and Charlie in alternating chapters, we become privy to their budding romance and to Charlie's work and how it impacts them. Though the background is the Manhattan Project and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are no technical details in this book. Rather the focus is the conscience aspect, the moralilty of it all. This, I have to say, was very well executed. Kiernan successfully conveys a tense environment of a battle of the conscience versus obligation and the implications and subsequent consequences. Overall, I found this book thougtful. The slower pace complimented the solenm tone of the book. I do not typically choose romance but this was a well executed aspect in this book. I definitely did appreacite this book . Charlie Fish is based on the real life mathematician Charles B. Fisk that actually worked on the Manhattan Project. Though its worth saying that after he worked on the project, he dedicated himself to making organs and following his love of music for "spiritual" reasons. His company, C. B. Fisk still continues to build organs to this day.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jo Ann

    4.5. Maybe 5. I loved this historical fiction book about Charlie Fish, the mathematician who worked on the detonator of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos. Unaware of what he's actually working on with the arcs, etc., until close to the assembly of the bomb, Charlie pursues his assignment with diligence, while he also pursues a girl from Chicago, Brenda, who will become his wife. This is both a lovely love story, and a tale of guilt and redemption, on both Charlie and Brenda's parts.The actual person 4.5. Maybe 5. I loved this historical fiction book about Charlie Fish, the mathematician who worked on the detonator of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos. Unaware of what he's actually working on with the arcs, etc., until close to the assembly of the bomb, Charlie pursues his assignment with diligence, while he also pursues a girl from Chicago, Brenda, who will become his wife. This is both a lovely love story, and a tale of guilt and redemption, on both Charlie and Brenda's parts.The actual person, Charlie Fisk, founded the Fisk organ company, and I would love to see and hear one of his organs...next time I'm in St. Paul, I will do so!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karen M

    Parts of this book made me sad and parts were just plain wonderful. I really enjoyed reading this book. This, I think, may be the first time I’ve read a book where one POV, Brenda, is written in the first person and the other POV, Charlie, is written in the third person. That change between first and third person worked very well in this story because Brenda is telling us about the past and Charlie is her past. The author did such an incredible job in defining these two characters that I almost fe Parts of this book made me sad and parts were just plain wonderful. I really enjoyed reading this book. This, I think, may be the first time I’ve read a book where one POV, Brenda, is written in the first person and the other POV, Charlie, is written in the third person. That change between first and third person worked very well in this story because Brenda is telling us about the past and Charlie is her past. The author did such an incredible job in defining these two characters that I almost felt as those I understood them and their thinking and reacting to what was happening around and to them. Brenda is living in a whirl of young soldiers about to go to war and she does her part by dancing with them, going to the movies and occasionally allowing a quick kiss goodbye. Charlie is a mathematician and, because of his uncle, is swept up into a government project that will eventually end in a crisis of conscience for him. Somehow, these two find each other and slowly are drawn together against the background of WWII. The author has obviously done a lot of research which is evident throughout the book. This story takes place during WWII but it is very different then most WWII stories that I have read. It takes place in the USA at a time that the US was fighting on two fronts, one in Europe and the other in the Pacific. It is about the incredible amount of work and effort that went into the development of what some hoped would put an end to all wars. Sadly, as we now know, there is no such thing ,and the development of the research at Los Alamos was just the beginning of a new and now somewhat frightening era in the world. Thank you to The Book Club Girls, Harper Collins Publishers Inc., Net Galley and the author Stephen P. Kiernan.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alison Smith

    I won this book in a giveaway and I really enjoyed reading it. The chapters alternate between the two protagonists’ perspective; Brenda is written in first person and Charlie in third person. I wondered about the reason for the change until the end of the book, when we realize that the entire story is Brenda’s to tell. The heart of the narrative revolves around their budding romance as Charlie questions the moral and ethical repercussions of the atomic bomb. Charlie feels personally responsible f I won this book in a giveaway and I really enjoyed reading it. The chapters alternate between the two protagonists’ perspective; Brenda is written in first person and Charlie in third person. I wondered about the reason for the change until the end of the book, when we realize that the entire story is Brenda’s to tell. The heart of the narrative revolves around their budding romance as Charlie questions the moral and ethical repercussions of the atomic bomb. Charlie feels personally responsible for his role in creating the destruction that takes so many Japanese lives at the end of WW2, which can't help but affect his relationship with Brenda. Brenda is a self-absorbed twit for a lot of the book, although she s-l-o-w-l-y becomes a kinder, gentler person as Charlie wrestles with his conscious. My biggest complaint is that, in the back-cover summary of the novel, Brenda is described as Charlie’s wife. She is not his wife until the last quarter of the book, which somewhat ruins some of the story line earlier on. There’s a “which man will she choose” moment that is less riveting because of the description on the back cover. And there are only 30 pages in the book by the time the Japanese surrender; half of the book summary is “at the war’s end.” I wish the description was summarizing the first 300+ pages of the book instead of the last quarter of it. Overall, this is a great story, built loosely on the life of real-life mathematician Charles Fisk. The combination of romance and ethical struggles during the war kept my attention and wrapped me up with intrigue. Just don’t read the story summary before you begin the book…. 😊

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marjorie

    This is a quite interesting novel very loosely based on the life of Charles Fisk, who worked on the design of the detonator for the atomic bomb in the 1940’s. I’m not usually fond of historical novels that include more fiction than fact but I did enjoy this one. There’s also the love story between Charles and Brenda, which I wasn’t that fond of. What I found most fascinating about this book was when it focused on Charles’ dawning realization of just what he was working on and what implications i This is a quite interesting novel very loosely based on the life of Charles Fisk, who worked on the design of the detonator for the atomic bomb in the 1940’s. I’m not usually fond of historical novels that include more fiction than fact but I did enjoy this one. There’s also the love story between Charles and Brenda, which I wasn’t that fond of. What I found most fascinating about this book was when it focused on Charles’ dawning realization of just what he was working on and what implications it could have on this world. Recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This was a beautiful story! When a fictional book is based on a real person it's sometimes hard for me to focus because I keep wondering how much of it is real and what was made up by the author. That wasn't the case for me with Universe of Two, because it's so sweet and romantic that it really sucks you in. You wouldn't expect a story about Project Y to work well as a love story but I thought it was wonderful. Do yourself a favor and listen to the music mentioned in this book as you read. All o This was a beautiful story! When a fictional book is based on a real person it's sometimes hard for me to focus because I keep wondering how much of it is real and what was made up by the author. That wasn't the case for me with Universe of Two, because it's so sweet and romantic that it really sucks you in. You wouldn't expect a story about Project Y to work well as a love story but I thought it was wonderful. Do yourself a favor and listen to the music mentioned in this book as you read. All of the songs are easily found on YouTube, played on an organ, and you will get the full effect of how meaningful the music is and how well it fits the story. I promise if you read this book you will fall in love with Charlie Fish and gain a new respect for the real-life versions of these characters and what they experienced.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Penny (Literary Hoarders)

    Here is another where I say, Oh my heart! I smiled so much, this was such a wonderful love story - Brenda's style of telling the reader her love story with Charlie in retrospect was so incredibly heart-tugging great. There is also a deeper story inside too because of Charlie's involvement with the Manhattan Project and the consequences of war. It was absolutely wonderful and I felt that way from the very first page. I've been reading some fantastic books this summer with yet another 5-star one h Here is another where I say, Oh my heart! I smiled so much, this was such a wonderful love story - Brenda's style of telling the reader her love story with Charlie in retrospect was so incredibly heart-tugging great. There is also a deeper story inside too because of Charlie's involvement with the Manhattan Project and the consequences of war. It was absolutely wonderful and I felt that way from the very first page. I've been reading some fantastic books this summer with yet another 5-star one here. This also marks the end of my #20BooksofSummer. What an excellent book to end this challenge on!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    Stephen Kieran does it again by inviting us into history through characters we may have heard of but now see them in a whole different way. Revolving around the Manhattan Project we are in Chicago surrounded by young men who are working on the mathematics which will change our world forever. From Chicago to New Mexico we feel Charlie Fish's need to complete his job to the best of his ability and the guilt that follows. This is also a love story. Brenda and Charlie meet and she encourages him to Stephen Kieran does it again by inviting us into history through characters we may have heard of but now see them in a whole different way. Revolving around the Manhattan Project we are in Chicago surrounded by young men who are working on the mathematics which will change our world forever. From Chicago to New Mexico we feel Charlie Fish's need to complete his job to the best of his ability and the guilt that follows. This is also a love story. Brenda and Charlie meet and she encourages him to continue his work when he has immense doubts about what he is helping to create. She is also there when his conscience eats at him when he sees the result of his work. Beautiful characterization of the scientists that changed the world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    This book took me completely by surprise. I really liked Kiernan’s earlier book “The Baker’s Secret” so felt comfortably sure that I would enjoy this one. But I never imagined that a book, inspired by the life of the man that developed the detonator for the atom bomb, would, or even could, contain such beautiful writing and feelings of such tenderness. My heart really felt as though it would break for Charlie as he struggled with his consciousness for creating a device – the Gadget - that took s This book took me completely by surprise. I really liked Kiernan’s earlier book “The Baker’s Secret” so felt comfortably sure that I would enjoy this one. But I never imagined that a book, inspired by the life of the man that developed the detonator for the atom bomb, would, or even could, contain such beautiful writing and feelings of such tenderness. My heart really felt as though it would break for Charlie as he struggled with his consciousness for creating a device – the Gadget - that took so many lives. The story opens with Charlie’s musician wife Brenda looking back on her life with Charlie. I could sense the moments of regret she had for not always appreciating Charlie for his best qualities. Then their love story plays out throughout the rest of the book. But this book is much more than a love story. While one side of Charlie was the mathematician, he also had a strongly sensitive side that loved working on organs. Yes, organs. He later went on to build organs. I learned quite a bit about the beauty and complexity of the organ as I read the book. But I also enjoyed the chapters that dealt with the scientific work Charlie did. Charlie’s feelings of guilt and redemption were remarkably balanced. “…the greatest kinds of strength are hidden, and move slowly, and cannot be stopped by anything until they have changed the world. Which he did twice.” The character development was superb, giving a vast array of people who were a part of Charlie and Brenda’s life. All the characters were presented in ways that I actually had an emotional response to them, whether it was Charlie’s fellow workers – some of whom also dealt with their own moral dilemmas - or the townspeople who engaged more with Brenda. The townspeople, who provided the support services, for the men “on the Hill” had no idea what was being developed. They all felt completely authentic with their strengths and their flaws. "Whatever you love, no matter how fiercely, you will lose it one day. That is the only certainty. Therefore be as kind as you can." Thanks to the publisher William Morrow for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    During WWII, Harvard graduate and mathematician Charlie Fish is tasked with creating the detonator for the atomic bomb, but once he realizes the true purpose of his invention, he's overcome with guilt. Will his sweetheart Brenda help him or hurt him during these trying times? "We are all building the Gadget. And we will all be guilty of the crimes it commits." I was so engrossed by this real and raw account of young love and didn't want to put it down. I'm not sure how the male author so accuratel During WWII, Harvard graduate and mathematician Charlie Fish is tasked with creating the detonator for the atomic bomb, but once he realizes the true purpose of his invention, he's overcome with guilt. Will his sweetheart Brenda help him or hurt him during these trying times? "We are all building the Gadget. And we will all be guilty of the crimes it commits." I was so engrossed by this real and raw account of young love and didn't want to put it down. I'm not sure how the male author so accurately nailed Brenda's thoughts as a young woman, but wow, I was blown away. Additionally, I was utterly fascinated by the Manhattan Project and the top secret creation of the nuclear bomb. Math and science nerds will love the detailed accounts of the bomb's construction, while romance lovers will love the burgeoning relationship between Charlie and Brenda. Mostly, this story is about following your dreams wherever they may lead. "It's like we're on an island... a universe of two." Location: Chicago, IL and Santa Fe and Los Alamos, NM I received an advance copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Barry

    This story is loosely based on one of the men who helped develop the triggering mechanism for the first atomic bomb. Charlie Fish, a mathematician, is recruited to work on a secret project in 1943. However, it is not his math skills but his recently acquired soldering skills that land him in Los Alomos at the nerve center of the development of the atomic bomb. He is tasked to develop a triggering mechanism that can create many simultaneous explosions. At first Charlie is in the dark about what h This story is loosely based on one of the men who helped develop the triggering mechanism for the first atomic bomb. Charlie Fish, a mathematician, is recruited to work on a secret project in 1943. However, it is not his math skills but his recently acquired soldering skills that land him in Los Alomos at the nerve center of the development of the atomic bomb. He is tasked to develop a triggering mechanism that can create many simultaneous explosions. At first Charlie is in the dark about what his work is for but gradually comes to the realization what his project is for and the damage it will inflict. At the same time this is also a love story of the romance between Charlie and his would be girl friend Brenda. Here the book in alternating chapters follows Brenda's thoughts and telling the story of the world Charlie finds himself immersed in. The making of the atomic bomb and Charlie and Brenda's relationship creates an interesting dichotomy. As the effort to split the atom progresses, so do the efforts of the couple to knit a life together despite the instability of their lives. The book explores the moral issues of the use of the atomic bomb as well as the effect on the people who created the bombs that killed so many people. Can one build a life, a universe of two as it were, with a conscience that bears guilt about such carnage? Can one atone for such an action; can one restore enough sacredness into a life that participated in such profanity? The book works on all levels. I enjoyed the characters and the plot. It touched on many issues without being heavy handed and the ending, which had a basis in reality, was enjoyable. Another excellent story from the author. Five stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I honestly have no idea why I can’t get into this book. I hate to stop a book before I finish it. There’s not a thing wrong with this book. I’m just over halfway through and I can’t get into it. I think it’s the talk of Charlie’s job that doesn’t work for me. I can tell everyone else who read this book loves it, but I’m around 200 pages in and I can’t stick with it. I especially hate to do that with an early release. I always appreciate getting to read a book early and I don’t want an early review to I honestly have no idea why I can’t get into this book. I hate to stop a book before I finish it. There’s not a thing wrong with this book. I’m just over halfway through and I can’t get into it. I think it’s the talk of Charlie’s job that doesn’t work for me. I can tell everyone else who read this book loves it, but I’m around 200 pages in and I can’t stick with it. I especially hate to do that with an early release. I always appreciate getting to read a book early and I don’t want an early review to reflect negatively. Books are always personal preference and this book and I don’t fit together. I was set an early copy of this book from The Book Club Girl and received it through NetGalley. Thanks!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rajiv

    [Blog]::[Youtube]::[Twitter]::[Instagram]::[Pinterest]::[Bloglovin] This is one of the best books I read this year! Where do I even begin? Do I talk about the beautiful love story between Brenda and Charlie? Or the nuances of guilt Charlie faces when he realizes the consequences of his work? How about the various physics references that indulged my geeky side? There are so many reasons why I loved this book in so many levels. I love this author and HAVE to read his previous books. The way he de [Blog]::[Youtube]::[Twitter]::[Instagram]::[Pinterest]::[Bloglovin] This is one of the best books I read this year! Where do I even begin? Do I talk about the beautiful love story between Brenda and Charlie? Or the nuances of guilt Charlie faces when he realizes the consequences of his work? How about the various physics references that indulged my geeky side? There are so many reasons why I loved this book in so many levels. I love this author and HAVE to read his previous books. The way he details the story-line makes you feel like you are right next to the characters. Moreover, I loved how he beautifully switches the tone between the two perspectives. Brenda is sassy and fun, and her story-line feels like you are reading a beautiful romance novel. Whereas, Charlie is an introverted genius, and if you read only his story-line, it would sound just like a war thriller. I just loved the contrast between the two, and how they blended beautifully towards the end. Moreover, the author also connects the character events to the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a gripping manner. I will not talk about Brenda and Charlie because it is obvious that I love them both. From their romantic first date at the movies, to the way they get married, watching these two was just mesmerizing. However, I have to mention my love for Lizzie and Brenda’s mother. These two appear at times in the story, but they just light up the pages. Lizzie is hilarious and made me laugh out loud with her push-ups. Similarly, I hated Mather and Beasley with a passion. I can go on, but I will stop now. Overall, this book is the epitome of a historical romance. I loved this story, and awaiting the movie adaptation once it comes out.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bobbi

    Stephen P. Kiernan really knows how to tell a good story, and on a variety of topics, which constantly impresses me because it’s (relatively) easy to keep telling basically the same story with different characters, varied locations, etc., but to go from a frozen man found in Antarctica, to a hospice nurse dealing with a patient and also a husband with PTSD, to a brave young woman in a small French village during WWII, to a mathematician working on a detonator for an atomic bomb - to be able to p Stephen P. Kiernan really knows how to tell a good story, and on a variety of topics, which constantly impresses me because it’s (relatively) easy to keep telling basically the same story with different characters, varied locations, etc., but to go from a frozen man found in Antarctica, to a hospice nurse dealing with a patient and also a husband with PTSD, to a brave young woman in a small French village during WWII, to a mathematician working on a detonator for an atomic bomb - to be able to pull that off in well-written, very thought-provoking books is truly a gift. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Manchester, Vermont at a Booktopia event after The Hummingbird was published, and he spoke with such passion about hospice that the book became even more memorable to me. This one will stay with me for quite some time, as well. My deepest appreciation to the author, HarperCollins, and Tavia Kowalchuk for the ARC of this impressive work of historical fiction. The book will be available on August 4, 2020.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jonna Higgins-Freese

    I keep thinking about this book a week after having finished it in one weekend. The writing was so amazing; the story drew me in. And one of the things I keep thinking about is -- why was it so engaging when I could not for the life of me understand what Charlie ever saw in Brenda? Her frame for the story is that he helped her become less selfish and learn to love -- and maybe that did happen, I didn't find a convincing depiction of it, if it did -- but what he saw in her in the first place is p I keep thinking about this book a week after having finished it in one weekend. The writing was so amazing; the story drew me in. And one of the things I keep thinking about is -- why was it so engaging when I could not for the life of me understand what Charlie ever saw in Brenda? Her frame for the story is that he helped her become less selfish and learn to love -- and maybe that did happen, I didn't find a convincing depiction of it, if it did -- but what he saw in her in the first place is perhaps the central mystery of this story to me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Learned a lot about the Manhattan Project, which I enjoyed. Learned more than I cared to about the intricacies of soldering electrical components for testing detonations. Would have liked to learn more about Fish/Fisk's life after working at Los Alamos. The synopsis mentions the prolonged mental anguish he experiences due to his complicity in the deaths of so many Japanese but only about 10% of the book covers this stage of his life. The other 90% covers the time he worked for the government on Learned a lot about the Manhattan Project, which I enjoyed. Learned more than I cared to about the intricacies of soldering electrical components for testing detonations. Would have liked to learn more about Fish/Fisk's life after working at Los Alamos. The synopsis mentions the prolonged mental anguish he experiences due to his complicity in the deaths of so many Japanese but only about 10% of the book covers this stage of his life. The other 90% covers the time he worked for the government on this top secret project, which he didn't know the exact details of. Loved the relationship between him and his girlfriend-to-become-wife -the way one's strengths make up for the other's shortcomings - and the way their trust and love develops.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Fink

    3.5* RECEIVED ARC IN GOODREADS GIVEAWAY This is unlike any other world war 2 book you'll ever read. It was so unique in the way it presented people involved in the war. I loved how involved I became with the characters and how much I felt for them. Their highs and lows, I felt it all. "Universe of Two" is a love story, and a beautiful one at that. It was done in such a realistic and romantic way. Nothing felt forced or rushed. The relationship between Charlie and Brenda was so genuine. I saw how t 3.5* RECEIVED ARC IN GOODREADS GIVEAWAY This is unlike any other world war 2 book you'll ever read. It was so unique in the way it presented people involved in the war. I loved how involved I became with the characters and how much I felt for them. Their highs and lows, I felt it all. "Universe of Two" is a love story, and a beautiful one at that. It was done in such a realistic and romantic way. Nothing felt forced or rushed. The relationship between Charlie and Brenda was so genuine. I saw how they felt, not just heard it. I was rooting for them the whole time. This book was full of feel good moments but also heartbreaking ones too. I don't remember ever being bored while reading this book. I was just along for the ride and enjoyed ever moment of it. The only thing I was really disappointed by was the fact that we barely saw the character's lives after the bombs were dropped. The summary made it seem like we would spend time with them as they grew and dealt with the consequences of what happened, but we only saw maybe 30 pages of it. Even so, I really loved this book and would recommend giving it a try.

  24. 4 out of 5

    K M

    I received an advance copy of this book from Harper Collins by way of the The Book Club Girls & NetGalley. All opinions are my own. It's a tense time in the United States, World War II rages on overseas with family members separated by the conflict. Charlie Fish, recently from Harvard University, finds himself working on increasingly vague & secret math problems in Chicago where he meets musician Brenda Dubie. Their courtship rides the waves of the war & Charlie's work until he is suddenly sent t I received an advance copy of this book from Harper Collins by way of the The Book Club Girls & NetGalley. All opinions are my own. It's a tense time in the United States, World War II rages on overseas with family members separated by the conflict. Charlie Fish, recently from Harvard University, finds himself working on increasingly vague & secret math problems in Chicago where he meets musician Brenda Dubie. Their courtship rides the waves of the war & Charlie's work until he is suddenly sent to New Mexico with very little warning to work on the ultimate top secret project. Brenda follows & the pair must navigate not only the war but it's (literal) fallout in their lives, a legacy that will last for generations. Modern readers will know immediately what Charlie Fish is working on & why he is sent to New Mexico, The Manhattan Project. During this dark & tense time in American history scientists, electricians, & engineers designed, built, & detonated a weapon that would forever change the course of world history. Charlie & Brenda are caught in the wheels of this project & will find their futures irreversibly changed because of the choices of those in power. Choices that are still debated to this day. At the center of this global conflict there is & always will be the great personal conflict of everyone affected by the creation & detonation of this new super weapon. This book really dives deep into Charlie's moral dilemma & does a wonderful job of exploring the difficult choices that have to be made & their emotional aftermath. As a project member Charlie sees co-workers dissent & be dismissed & questions his own place in history & his responsibility for the lives taken when his creation is finally deployed. This great mental anguish affects his relationship & we see his decline & his start on the road of redemption through the eyes of his girlfriend & eventual wife Brenda. As she sees change in him she realizes change in herself & becomes the woman he needs to help him reclaim his life & his story. The author has based this book on the true story of Charles Brenton Fisk, who served on the detonator team for the Manhattan Project. True elements and events are woven throughout the story giving it a documentary feel. Liberties were taken to fit historical events into the narrative but each liberty was carefully thought out & the story is powerful & respectful. I would have given this book 3.5 stars if I could, it was just short of a 4 for me. I love historical fiction & this is a period of time in the United States that I have a great interest in. I thought that Charlie was very well constructed & a sympathetic protagonist, quite frankly I adored him & felt for him as he navigated through one of the most difficult situations imaginable. I did not connect with Brenda however. She began the story as a selfish petulant child & ended as a mature woman who had helped her husband through something enormously difficult but I never saw how she got there. I disliked her immensely at the beginning & never really warmed to her at all. As per usual I felt the sudden inclusion of their sexual relationship late in the book was unnecessary. I'm just not a fan of sticking sex into a narrative when it serves no developmental purpose & I really failed to see any here. If it was meant to show Brenda's softening & growing empathy it failed for me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan is an amazing historical fiction that is placed mainly during the latter years of WWII in the US and beings to light a lot of the backstory in regards to the Manhattan Project: the creation, testing, and eventual use of the atomic bomb. This book, to me, is really two stories interweaving into one gorgeous novel. We are introduced to Brenda and Charlie and get to dive into their respective lives and viewpoints in alternating chapters. Through Charlie, we are Universe of Two by Stephen P. Kiernan is an amazing historical fiction that is placed mainly during the latter years of WWII in the US and beings to light a lot of the backstory in regards to the Manhattan Project: the creation, testing, and eventual use of the atomic bomb. This book, to me, is really two stories interweaving into one gorgeous novel. We are introduced to Brenda and Charlie and get to dive into their respective lives and viewpoints in alternating chapters. Through Charlie, we are able to learn so much more about the inter-workings of the US government, military, and some of the science/engineering that was involved in creating the monumental, life-changing, world-altering, and controversial atomic bomb. Being able to see, albeit simplified, how the structure was created and implemented was beyond fascinating. My chemistry major definitely helped give me that baseline knowledge that really drew me in when those concepts were discussed. I was enthralled with the process from beginning to end. The second story is the relationship itself between Charlie and Brenda (18 and 19 respectively at the beginning of the book). Getting to learn each character’s strengths and weaknesses (Brenda a talented and passionate organist that also was slightly self-absorbed) and Charlie (mathematician, and and genius but also a tortured soul in regards to the role that he plays) made me that much more invested into the book and how it progressed. Their meeting, their trials, their triumphs, struggles, and finally finding their places in life was excellent reading. There were also several underlying themes to this book: 1. Music. The inclusion of a shared and beloved pastime: music. Seeing how much those notes on a page and the ability to bring them to life was a unifier with Brenda, Charlie, Reverend and Mrs Morris, and I found it fascinating. How those notes evoked feelings, memories, and ideas with out saying a word spoke volumes. 2. Relationships. The relationship between Charlie and Brenda, Brenda and her mother, Brenda’s parents, each characters’ relationship with themselves and their transitions and changes as they grow and evolve. 3. Morals. The moral dilemmas the characters faced in times of war. The inner turmoil Charlie felt as he wrestled with the gravity of the part he played in helping create the atomic bomb. Who are we to say looking back on what is right and what is wrong? Nothing in this novel is black and white. Not one person is innately innocent or evil. The decisions made creating rippling effects eternally. That is pretty deep and tough subject matter for anyone to deal with, let alone two young adults still trying to figure out who they are and what their life purpose may be. This book was fascinating, gripping, emotional, and finally positive and satisfying in the end. I learned quite a bit, and isn’t that what a perfect historical fiction is really all about? Excellent and enthusiastically recommend. 5/5 stars Thank you NetGalley and William Morrow/ HarperCollins Publishers for this ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon and B&N accounts upon publication.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I am not a huge fan of historical fiction but I fell in love with this love story! Universe of Two tells the story of Charles Fish and his part in developing the atomic bomb. As the story begins you meet Brenda Dubie, a girl who becomes the love of Fish's life. Brenda helps run the family music store while her father and brother are away at war. Charles frequents the store and their love story begins. Charles is taken away to New Mexico to help in the war efforts at home. Their love story remind I am not a huge fan of historical fiction but I fell in love with this love story! Universe of Two tells the story of Charles Fish and his part in developing the atomic bomb. As the story begins you meet Brenda Dubie, a girl who becomes the love of Fish's life. Brenda helps run the family music store while her father and brother are away at war. Charles frequents the store and their love story begins. Charles is taken away to New Mexico to help in the war efforts at home. Their love story reminds us of a simpler, more innocent time. Fish's story of helping in the development of the atomic bomb was actually quite fascinating and sad. At first, Charles had no idea how important the work he did was nor how it would eventually affect the entire human race. He had a huge amount of guilt after seeing the outcome and devastation the bomb caused. I liked Stephen P. Kiernan's writing style. I found it very easy to read and follow. I will be recommending this story to others and will be looking forward to his other works. Special Thanks to The Book Club Girls Early Read, NetGalley, William Morrow - HarperCollins Publishing, and Stephen P. Kiernan for the advance digital copy in exchange for my honest opinion. #UniverseofTwo #NetGalley

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Brenda and Charlie meet in Brenda's family music store. Charlie, who would graduate from Harvard if he had remained in school at the age of 18, was employed in a math project in the Fall of 1943. Brenda has a view of herself as a superior person. Charlie, who is mild mannered, is working for the US Government, but he does not understand what he is doing. Charlie ends up going to Los Alamos. Brenda gets a job as an organist in the town near Los Alamos. This is a story of two people coming of age during Brenda and Charlie meet in Brenda's family music store. Charlie, who would graduate from Harvard if he had remained in school at the age of 18, was employed in a math project in the Fall of 1943. Brenda has a view of herself as a superior person. Charlie, who is mild mannered, is working for the US Government, but he does not understand what he is doing. Charlie ends up going to Los Alamos. Brenda gets a job as an organist in the town near Los Alamos. This is a story of two people coming of age during World War II, and how they deal with the events of the day and their future. A very good story.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Thelma Fountain

    I received this book in a Librarything giveaway. This is the second book I have read by this author. I have discovered he has a unique gift for making a profound statement that just really stands out from everything else in the story. The first book this came toward the end and was deeply moving. It really made the book. This time the statement came at the beginning when the narrator stated that her husband " Changed the world. Twice. " I was fascinated from that point on I wanted to learn more I received this book in a Librarything giveaway. This is the second book I have read by this author. I have discovered he has a unique gift for making a profound statement that just really stands out from everything else in the story. The first book this came toward the end and was deeply moving. It really made the book. This time the statement came at the beginning when the narrator stated that her husband " Changed the world. Twice. " I was fascinated from that point on I wanted to learn more about this extraordinary man and how he did that Twice. stephen Kiernan is an extremely talented author I highly recommend his books.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    I am definitely in the minority for the star rating. I made it to page 150 and gave up. For me I found the story uninteresting especially all the endless pages about Charlie’s job. And Brenda, the girlfriend, drove me nuts! What a baby! She was a snot and verbally mean to poor Charlie. She was self-centered, unhappy , and never grew up. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I didn’t finish. Time to move on! (Solely my opinion. Read it. You may like the story better than me!)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Becki (millerreads)

    Universe of Two is a WWII historical fiction novel, but told from a much different setting than most books from that genre. This one is set in the U.S. and is loosely based on the real Charlie Fisk who worked on the Manhattan Project building detonators. The book follows the fictional version of this man, Charlie Fish, as he begins his part in the war effort running calculations in Chicago to his ultimate transfer to the deserts of New Mexico where the atomic bomb is being built. However, everyt Universe of Two is a WWII historical fiction novel, but told from a much different setting than most books from that genre. This one is set in the U.S. and is loosely based on the real Charlie Fisk who worked on the Manhattan Project building detonators. The book follows the fictional version of this man, Charlie Fish, as he begins his part in the war effort running calculations in Chicago to his ultimate transfer to the deserts of New Mexico where the atomic bomb is being built. However, everything is being done so secretively he only knows the small part he’s being told to build - not what it’s for. Back in Chicago, Charlie left behind his headstrong sweetheart, Brenda, who is conflicted about her own feelings for him. As Charlie comes to realize what he is being asked to do and how this capability will forever change the world, he struggles to cope with it, and not being able to share this with Brenda causes strife in their relationship. When the bombs have dropped and they both feel the magnitude of what has happened, what will it take to move on? This was a compulsively readable story for me due to the great writing and the unique setting compared with hundreds (thousands?) of other WWII historical fiction books. I also enjoyed the structure alternating between what was going on with Charlie and then shifting to Brenda’s reflections. There were some areas I struggled with, especially the classical music and pipe organ references (Brenda’s family sells them), as well as the character of Brenda herself, but overall I enjoyed this one. I do want to caution about the publisher’s synopsis. I usually read them when I first decide if I want to read a book, but intentionally do not re-read the back cover when I actually pick the book up. Re-reading this one after I finished, it nearly gives away the entire story, including solid info about Brenda & Charlie’s relationship that doesn’t occur until over 80% through the book, and was actually a compelling point of some suspense for a good portion of the narrative. I’m glad I went into the story blind to this because it made for a better reading experience. So read it, add it to your TBR, and then forget it before you start the book. Thank you to the publisher for my gifted advanced copy of this book.

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