Page 126. " Nobel laureate, veteran of the Manhattan Project. "

The Manhattan Project was the code name for the research effort that sought to produce the first atomic bomb. Research took place at a number of sites across the US, England and Canada, and involved scientists from each of these countries. The project began on a small scale but ended up employing around 130,000 people and costing, in today's terms, $22 billion dollars. On August 6th 1945, Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. It caused an estimated 80,000 deaths (excluding the thousands of radiation-related deaths in the following years) and destroyed around 69% of the city's buildings. The first atomic bomb was tested prior to this, however, on July 16th 1945, close to New Mexico. The Trinity Test threw the world into a new atomic age.

 

Page 136. " 'Alberto Grimaldi flew out to our Three Mile Island site this morning - wooing a group of Germans. "
View of Three Mile Island Power Plant. It never operated again after the accident.
Public Domain View of Three Mile Island Power Plant, site of the worst commercial nuclear power plant accident in American history.  Credit: Public Health Image Library 

A satisfying instance of dramatic irony, at least for those who know anything about the history of nuclear power. The Three Mile Island nuclear power station, based south of Pennsylvania in the US, was the site of a major nuclear accident in 1979 when a mechanical failure caused substantial amounts of reactor coolant to escape. Although the official scientific release indicated that no adverse effects would be suffered by those close to the plant, other studies have indicated otherwise. The accident played a large role in bolstering support for anti-nuclear campaign organizations and in slowing down the growth of the nuclear power industry in the U.S. throughout the 80's and 90's.  

 Press Scrum: President Jimmy Carter inspects the scene of the accident at Three Mile Island
Public DomainPress Scrum: President Jimmy Carter inspects the scene of the accident at Three Mile Island - Credit: President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island
Page 138. " but finds no printed matter except Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. "
Robert M. Pirsig
GNU Free Documentation LicenseAuthor: Robert M. Pirsig - Credit: Ian Glendinning

Despite the unlikely sounding title, this was one of the America's most successful philosophical publications, clearing over four million copies in a multitude of languages. It relates a seventeen-day motorcycle journey across the US whilst exploring a wide range of philosophical questions. Many of the ideas expressed take their lead from Eastern thinking.

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on Book Drum

Page 148. " the chimes of an ice-cream van playing 'The Girl from Ipanema' scattered my assailants, "

The Girl from Ipanema was a worldwide bossa nova hit in the mid 1960s. Its use in elevator scenes has become something of a cliché. Often a muzak version will provide ironic contrast to a tense or suspenseful moment in a film. The lyrics are Portuguese. Here the song's writer Antonio Carlos Jobim performs alongside Andy Williams.      

                                                   

                                                                               

Page 150. " and that even Moby Dick bombed in Melville's lifetime. "
Cover of first edition
Public DomainCover of first edition Credit: Breinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Herman Melville's Moby-Dick tells the story of the roaming whaler Ishmael and his obsessive quest to find and destroy a whale he believes to represent all evil. It recieved mixed reviews upon its release in 1851, the pervading critical fault being a lack of understanding of what is a very sophisticated text. One prominent publication described it as an 'ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact.' Unlike the furious Dermot, Melville expected and accepted such criticism. In a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne he wrote '...for not one man in five cycles, who is wise, will expect appreciative recognition from his fellows, or any one of them. Appreciation! Recognition! Is Jove appreciated?' Posthumously the novel came to be regarded by many as the Great American Novel. In interview Mitchell explains that his 'character Ewing was (pretty obviously) Melville, but with shorter sentences.' Not so obvious, perhaps, to some of us...