Books Set in WWII — A Review of Los Alamos, The Good German, and All The Light We Cannot See


all the light good german los alamos

All three are set in WWII; All the Light We Cannot See occurs prior to, during, and after the war; The Good German is set prior to, during, and after the Potsdam Conference in 1945, and Los Alamos is set during and after the war and intersects nicely with The Good German. Reading The Good German prior to Los Alamos was helpful to this reviewer. All three involve the scientific elite of the war; All the Light’s focus is a German teenager with an acquisitive mechanical engineering mind; The Good German and Los Alamos analyzes the American and Russian interests in gaining the advantage over each other in the race to acquire the “secret” scientific knowledge possessed by German scientists  The ethical quandaries of  the scientists, budding and otherwise, are explored heavily in All the Light and Los Alamos and to a lesser extent in The Good German. There is more science in All the Light and Los Alamos, though none is overdone or too technical. It is the acquisition of knowledge, the excitement in learning and developing the scientific mindset that intrigued me.

The Good German is told from an American perspective in Berlin; it is a gritty novel while Los Alamos is set in Mid-West America and is smoother yet infused with urgency. All the Light is a fluid, almost lyrical novel with both alternating time periods and places, mostly in France and Germany with some scenes occurring in Russia and other WWII European settings.

The Good German and Los Alamos have a romantic overlay that is not subtle and goes against conventional marriage norms and to a degree takes aim at marriage.The Good German’s romance is both pre-war and post-war while the romance in Los Alamos occurs during the war and continues afterwards. Neither are not Harlequin-type romance writing but written for guys and gals. All The Light has hints of putative romance cut short by the war. It’s a wistfulness, a longing that you realize could not happen if there was not a war.

Los Alamos is a spy thriller set within a whodunit mystery while The Good German is a whodunit mystery with more of a philosophical look at the developing U.S.-U.S.S.R. relations as well as what it means to be a German not tainted by association with Nazis. All the Light is not a mystery or a thriller but a piece of contemporary fiction set in the historical. All the Light reminds the reader by asking Werner (the German teenager), Marie’s uncle, and others what it means to be true to yourself, or in essence a good and caring citizen, and not an ostrich with its head in the sand.

In order of rank, I enjoyed All the Light, Los Alamos and the Good German.