At the outset of World War II, when the U.S. launched the extraordinarily secret Manhattan Project, uranium from North America and most of the rest of the world was less than one percent enriched and considered inadequate to build the first atom bombs. But there was one mine in the world where, through a freak of nature, the ore contained up to an unheard of 75 percent enriched uranium:  Shinkolobwe mine in the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo.

The link between Shinkolobwe and Hiroshima, where more than 200,000 people were killed, is still largely unknown in the West, in the Congo and even in Japan among the few survivors still alive.  Another ignored link is the disastrous health effect on Congolese miners who handled the uranium as virtual slaves of the Belgium mining giant Union Minière, owners of Shinkolobwe in the then Belgian Congo.

Though it turned out the Nazis had not got very far in their quest for the bomb (because of a lack of highly-enriched uranium), the Americans were unaware of that in 1939, and were fearful Hitler would get a nuclear weapon before they did. That would have almost certainly affected the outcome of the war.  As early as that year, Albert Einstein wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt to advise him to keep the Nazis away from Shinkolowbe.

Williams’s meticulously-researched and masterfully written book tells the intricate tale of a special unit of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency,  that was set up to purchase and secretly remove all the uranium from Shinkolowbe that the U.S. could get  its hands on.