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The Invention of the Countdown

A story of human longing and failure, of German history, and the ethics of science

Against his father’s will, Hermann Oberth moves to Göttingen in 1920 in order to study physics – the most exciting science of his age in the most exciting city there is. Hermann wants to turn the human dream of sending rockets to the moon into reality. The young man is considered very talented, but right before his major breakthrough, funding for his research is stopped.

It now falls to Hermann's wife Tilla to keep their lives above water until Wernher von Braun, a member of the SS Corps becomes interested in Hermann's work. Instead of moon rockets, Hermann is invited to help develop a retaliatory weapon for the Nazis to use. Hermann and Tilla are suddenly confronted with the question of their own personal responsibility when faced by the march of history. This question becomes all the more important when they lose both their son Julius and their daughter Ilse to the war.

In a countdown from 10 to 0, we follow a narrative about human errors, setbacks, and people picking themselves back up again. Scientific ethics come alive in this story plucked from modern history.

“Daniel Mellem hasn’t just written a sweeping novel - he has ignited a rocket! He has resurrected rocket scientist Hermann Oberth, a great, pugnacious dreamer, in a fantastic story that will fascinate those of us who dreamily gaze at the stars.” Saša Stanišic

  • The unbelievably improbable, yet true, story of the life of physicist Hermann Oberth
  • A young, prize-winning author
  • Daniel Mellem (Ph.D., physics) is able to conceive and write about science in an intriguing and relatable manner


dtv Literatur
288 pages, ISBN 978-3-423-28238-3
15. September 2020