"In 1955, before I could write and when my reading had not yet progressed beyond Golden Books, I discovered the Atomic Bomb. "

So begins The Bomb for My Pillow, Gregg Ainsworth's reminiscence of an "atomic childhood" — growing up in the shadow of nuclear annihilation.

Gregg in High School

Born in 1949 in Oakland, California, Gregg came of age at a time when annihilation by nuclear war was considered a real and ever-present danger.

A sensitive and intelligent child, he was both fascinated by and terrified of the power of nuclear weapons. An idealist at heart, he was also greatly attracted by the possibility that nuclear science might transform the world into a better place.

His memoir of that time, written in 1980, recalls his youthful reactions to the dangers and allures of atomic weapons, his learning to live with fallout from nuclear test explosions, his adolescent scrutiny of the Civil Defense fallout-shelter program, and his desperate plans for survival if his own city were attacked.

Entranced by the power of the atom, Gregg also describes his early studies and science-fair projects, which he hoped would eventually enable him to participate in the development of peaceful uses for nuclear power.

  The Bomb for My Pillow

Nook (epub) version

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Lesson Plans

Readers' Memories

A Brief Biography

The Bomb for My Pillow can be freely copied and distributed for educational and non-profit uses. We hope that teachers might find it useful for lessons about that period of American history, or as a stimulus for discussion or writing about the issues involved. Teachers are welcome to edit the manuscript or parts of it to make it more suitable for their students (the Microsoft Word version is 25 pages long). If you do use it in the classroom, please let us know and share your lesson plan and its outcome with others.

Also let us know if you have any links to suggest, or know of any photos or other images that are in the public domain and may be used with this material. We'd appreciate any references to printed or other material that can be cited to guide students of this period to other resources. If reading Gregg's memoir stimulates some memories of your own of that period that you'd like to make available to others, please send them to us.

Educational or nonprofit organizations are welcome to reproduce or mirror all or parts of this site on their own servers. Please let us know if you do so.


The nuclear explosion depicted above, XX-92 BRAVO - Operation Castle, was an experimental thermonuclear deviced detonated Febuary 28, 1954 on Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific (A U. S. Department of Energy photo retrieved in 2003 from http://www.nv.doe.gov/news&pubs/photos&films/atm.htm).

- last updated September 21, 2014 -