How John Coster-Mullen Learned To Stop Worrying and Reverse Engineer the Bomb

Sure, you’ve blocked out this week to return unwanted gifts (“Thanks, Uncle Felix, I do so love angora. And what a stunning mustard hue!”), find the perfect 2009 calendar, and make collage-based tributes to the late Eartha Kitt, but we suggest that before 2008 is out, you read David Samuelsfascinating New Yorker profile of John Coster-Mullen, the Wisconsin truck driver who has solved myriad mysteries of the first atom bombs. Say what?

Coster-Mullen, 61, is the author of the self-published book Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man. He has spent the last decade compiling the most accurate known account of the Hiroshima bomb’s inner workings, what Samuels describes as “an unnervingly detailed reconstruction,” and building a full-scale model bomb in his garage. Samuels teases out the details of the bomb’s design, the “community of civilian nuclear obsessives,” and Coster-Mullen himself by tagging along with him on a series of cross-country trucking runs and bomb-related research adventures. We learn, for example, how an old photograph and a 1942 Plymouth were the catalysts for a breakthrough in Coster-Mullen’s knowledge of the bomb’s exact measurements. Also, he really really likes Diet Coke. Meanwhile, his quest to know—and publish—all there is to know about the bomb continues apace. Says Coster-Mullen, “The secret of the atomic bomb is how easy they are to make.”