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Paperback The Making of the Atomic Bomb Book

ISBN: 0684813785

ISBN13: 9780684813783

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

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Book Overview

The author recounts the story of how the atomic bomb was developed, from the discovery at the turn of century of the vast energy locked inside the atom, to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan during the Second World War.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Superb Historical Account Of Etiology of First Atomic Bomb!

One of the most admirable qualities of this truly marvelous work is its ability to paint the story of the creation of the first atomic weapon on the broadest possible canvas, reaching back into the bowels of history to trace, with the fidelity of a seismographic needle, the rise of both the specific intellectuals as well as the critical scientific mass to make the work not only conceivable, but possible. This is indeed a work that one reads repeatedly, for there is so much to digest within the pages of this masterwork as to defy any easy such description. So both the cast of involved personalities is long and incredibly interesting to witness as the author develops it, but then again, so is his description of the rise of theoretical physics through the work of Albert Einstein and his colleagues within the mostly European academic orbit in the first third of the twentieth century. In that sense, it is not strictly speaking, merely a detailed exposition dealing with what happened in New Mexico under incredibly secret circumstances during World War Two, as the Manhattan Project, even though it eventually gravitates toward being exactly that. Instead, the book opens as an exploration into the minds of some brilliantly eccentric professors and intellectuals struggling within theoretical physics on the very cutting edge of the unknown, and then stretching it in quite unsuspected and revolutionary ways. And as the critical mass of theoretical knowledge began to cluster within the fairly small community of like-minded souls, the scene changes based on world politics and the rise of fascism. It is an interesting curiosity that had Hitler been less vitriolic in his condemnation of Jews, he might have forestalled the emigration of critical players in this unfolding melodrama, and so might have altered his own destiny and that of his most important ally, Japan. For just as the kluge of intellectuals conceded that such a weapon was indeed theoretically possible and feasible, many of them began to flee to more hospitable environs, including both the USA and Britain. Without their help, it is questionable as to whether the Manhattan Project could have ever succeeded. The author is also quite convincing in his take concerning the long-rumored notion that the Nazis were also rushing toward development of the bomb, which Rhodes believes to be unsubstantiated by the available evidence. In fact, he argues exactly the opposite, that the Nazis were neither very interested in the development of such a weapon, and did not enjoy sufficient access to the kinds of materials they would have needed to mount a serious developmental nuclear program. Yet the majority of the book focuses memorably on the events transpiring in and around Los Alamos. The program to develop a useable atomic bomb was so massive and so secret that it is hard to imagine its scope at the time. Rhodes' prose admirably supports his sometimes almost confessional style, and he writes well enough to inter

A brilliant epic retelling of the birth of the atomic bomb

Richard Rhodes's masterpiece is one those books that is almost impossible to over praise. Since reading it a number of years ago, I have been amazed how many times I have heard about one individual or another mentioned in these pages, and either remember specific things about them from this book, or the greater background in which they worked. The book is not, it must be emphasized, not about the Manhattan Project, although that features as a significant feature in the story. Rhodes's tale begins well in advance of that, and his narrative for several hundred pages is a story of the men and women who first started thinking within the field of physics that would eventually make the atomic bomb a theoretical possibility. The cast of characters is immense, and involves nearly all of the major theoretical physicists of the first half of the twentieth century (though many would continue to dominate well into the 20th--indeed, one of the major players, Edward Teller, died only a few weeks before my writing this review). The first part of the book deals with those men and women who did made a series of brilliant breakthroughs in physics that made the building of an atomic bomb not merely conceivable but feasible, at least sufficiently feasible for the major players in WW II to explore in a full-fledged way whether an atomic bomb could be built. The second half of the book details the efforts of the major players in WW II to build such a bomb. I found this especially interesting, because often writers mention the danger of Hitler having built an atomic bomb before the allies, but Rhodes pretty much destroys any illusions about this. He shows that, first, the German atomic program was tremendously under funded and given only a modicum of support by Hitler and his advisors. There were two major reasons for this. First, the Nazis had little or no access to the materials that would make such a program successful, in particular to an unstable uranium isotope. Their lone source lay in heavy water, which they were able to get from Sweden, but it is exceedingly doubtful that they would have had enough to produce sufficient material for a bomb even if they had known how to do so. But the greater impediment to the building of a bomb was Hitler's own disinclination to do so. Partly because of his own experience with mustard gas in WW I, Hitler was personally opposed to the use of what we would today call WMDs. But as Rhodes shows, even in America there was uncertainty about how devastating such a weapon would be, and some of the Nazis felt that the bomb would result in setting the earth's atmosphere on fire. Therefore, the German atomic threat is greatly exaggerated. Yet, it is still asserted. I read just recently a book by former MP and cabinet minister Roy Jenkins, in which he discusses the possibility of the Nazis getting the bomb first in WW II, an event that is at most a remote possibility. In addition to the German program, Rhodes also discus

absolutely first rate scientific and political history

This is one of those books that has it all: fascinating personalities, fundamental scientific discoveries explained with utter clarity, and the birth of political issues that are as relevant today as they were 60 years ago. That it is almost certainly the best book on the development of the atomic bomb is in itself remarkable, as the field is already crowded with mediocre efforts. Rhodes makes an entire era - the first half of the 20th Century - come alive in exacting detail. THe book starts with a ruminating Leo Szilard as he wanders the streets of London, with the concept of an atom bomb germinating in his mind. His pesonality is so quirky, his propensity to find just the right contact to advance his agenda, make him the ideal vehicle to follow the story of the harnessing of the atom for military purpose. But to offer a full view, Rhodes starts with the Curies and their milieu, when they discovered radiation - a fundamental new form of energy that could not be explained by chemistry - that was the start of the 20C revolution in physics. Not only does this story cover such luminaries as Einstein and Bohr, but it includes many others lesser known, who added their discoveries to the pieces of the puzzle that finally elucidated the structure of the atom. These developments are also brilliantly set in European and American history, where the rise of Nazism renders them frighteningly relevant. In addition, other issues are addressed, such as the reason for the sudden blossomng of several Hungarian geniuses, including Szilard and von Neumann, who left their homeland for the US.Then Rhodes moves to the practical question of the Bomb's development, which was accomplished predominently by European scientists in exile and some remarkable Americans as well. Here, you witness Enrico Fermi as he creates the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction in CHicago; the flowering of Oppenheimer's genius for administration; and the efforts that Heisenburg led, and perhaps sabotaged, in Nazi Germany. Each personality is given the depth you would expect in a historical novel with adventure, such as Bohr's flight from Norway, and the infighting that went on behind the scenes. It is simply a masterpiece of historical reporting.Though his output has covered many topics, from his personal sexual history to hard scientific topics, Rhodes is indisputably one of America's greatest writers. I was fascinated by this book from page one and even took vacation time so that I could read it in peace while my daughter was in school.Highest recommendation.

This Changes Everything

I will echo the other reviewers: this is one of the best, if not the best book I have read.The book covers the subect on a number of levels. First is the factual story of the events leading up to the making of the bomb, which in themselves would be fascinating. For example, the fact that in two years the Manhattan Project built an industrial plant larger than the US automobile manufacturing base. That only in December of 1938 was the fission of Uranium first discovered, but the course of events were so rapid as to lead to the Trinity test in July of 1945. As a sometime program manager, but no General Groves, it was a fascinating account of the world's most significant projecct.The second level is a very enjoyable history of nuclear physics as the reader is lead through the discovery process from the turn of the century to thermonuclear fusion. That discovery process is the vehicle for the third and fourth levels of the book. The stories and personalities of the scientists, around the world, who added to that knowledge, what shaped and motivated their lives and how they indiviually gained insight, brilliant insight, into the riddle that was physics. I felt I got to know people like Rutherford, Bohr, Oppenheimer, Fermi, Szilard, and Teller. The fourth level was that the insight was not really individual but collaborative. This book is one of the finest descriptions of the scientific process and how this open, collaborative and communicative process works across boundaries.The last level, the biggest surprise and the most profoundly unsettling, was the realization of how this event, inevitable, has "changed everything" about human history - an appreciation, I believe 55 years later, we who did not participate in the Manhattan Project, have yet to fully realize. Niels Bohr realized it in an instant. The book is superbly written. The personalies came alive, I felt I knew Niels Bohr. It was absolutely suspenseful even though you know the ending (you don't really). I was caught up in the story as though it were a novel. After reading late the night before, one evening I came home and declared to my wife "They dropped the bomb!". Such was the intensity of my participation in the book that my voice had excitement to it. She was horrified. I had to explain, "No, no. In the book. On Hiroshima". When history is that exciting it is hard to beat.This is one of only a few books about which I can say that I will never quite view the world the same again.A masterpiece and a must read.

required reading - AND utterly captivating

Everyone seeking to understand the 20th century, its history, its politics, its scientific development, must read this book. Not only does it illuminate one of the foundational events of our time far better than any other source, it definitively sets forth modern science, its ethical dilemmas, its odd combination of unbelievable explanatory power and the utterly (humanly) unfathomable reality science suggests. Rhodes traces the development of the atomic bomb to its scientific roots, which he demonstrates are inextricably intertwined with the people pushing the scientific developments at an ever increasing speed and for a long time had no idea of the potential their theories carried. Rhodes manages to do all this with complete lucidity, allowing the reader totally unfamiliar with quantum mechanics to follow along with reasonable comprehension. At the same time, the psychological, ethical and political dramas Rhodes describes make this the hands-down most thrilling, most exciting book I have ever read

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