â€œThere is real danger in the acceptance of the word of an authority without questioning it, because the acceptance may blind us to proof of a more accurate statement.â€Â Â -Barry Rudd
The plotÂ concerns Barry Rudd, a pragmatic, ingenius student, and his fight against the charismatic Mr. Jones,Â who wants Barry for a defense contract that involves turning young men and women into organic thinking machines, able to process and predict information used for the countryâ€™s security.
Characters such as Barryâ€™s family and teachers and the townspeople are introduced, brilliantly fleshed out through nothing but dialogue, to give their two cents on how they feel about the boyâ€™s fate.
Like a nightmarish hybrid of Orwellâ€™s 1984 and Goetheâ€™s Faust, Hersey paints a depressing picture of humanity, a collection of individuals entirely susceptible to selling or modifying their intellectualism and freedoms for a vaguely defined greater good. Characters with rebellious, gritty background quickly fall prey to Mr. Joneâ€™s methods, which usually are no more than hefty monetary sums, to sway them to his side.
Hersey, who won numerous awards and accolades for his journalistic work on the bombing to Hiroshima, calls for readers to question how far they would be willing to go for their patriotism, especially if it meant sacrificing someone one else. The question is answered at the end of the book in one of the most troubling conclusions Iâ€™ve ever read.