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Atomic: the first war of physics and the secret history of the atom bomb 1939-49 Hardcover – 2009

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Hardcover, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: ICON BOOKS LTD (2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310447
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310445
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,146,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Andy in Washington TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 23, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had high hopes for this book based on its title. I have read several accounts of the development of atomic weapons, including Oppenheimer's biography, and was hoping for an comprehensive history of both US and world-wide developments. This book did not deliver.

Baggot touches on the biographies of some of the scientists involved, but stops short of examining their goals, reservations and internal conflicts. For example, Leo Szilard was one of the first physicists to see the potential of atomic weapons, and was a key figure in making Roosevelt aware of the dangers of not developing these weapons. He was as much responsible for the Manhattan project as anyone, and yet became a strong advocate for not using atomic weapons on civilian targets. Baggot makes only a superficial examination of the man and his conflicted thoughts.

The narrative makes frequent detours into peripheral issues not at all important to the topic. For example, there are a few pages devoted to the offensive and defensive strategies surrounding D-Day in Europe. None of this is even remotely tied to the atom bomb.

There is almost no mention of what went on at Los Alamos, other than brief mentions that the place even existed and lots of research happened there.

While there is quite a bit of discussion on the espionage efforts surrounding the USSR's penetration of the Manhattan project, there is scant detail to help the reader evaluate what happened. For example, the book relates that David Greenglass was a member of the Rosenberg spy ring, and passed details of the explosive "lenses" developed to contain and initiate fission explosions. But there is no analysis of how important or unimportant this information really was to the Soviets.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Terry Sunday TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title of Jim Baggott's "The First War of Physics" can be taken in two ways. It can mean that World War II, with the development and use of atomic bombs, was the "first war" in which physics played such an overwhelmingly important role. Or it can mean that the development of the atomic bomb was the "first" of a series of "wars" among the physicists of rival nations, and was followed by other physics "wars" such as those for artificial earth satellites, electronic countermeasures, lasers, artificial intelligence, and so on. Regardless of how you interpret the title, "The First War of Physics" is interesting and well worth reading.

There is no shortage of books about the development of nuclear weapons. The U.S. Manhattan Project is covered in great detail in many works of varying accuracies. The story of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons program is less well-known, but nevertheless has seen print ("Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956," by David Holloway, is probably the definitive treatment to date). The programs of Britain and France remain largely unreported at book-length because those countries still maintain strict secrecy about them.

The unique aspect of "The First War of Physics" is that it reports on virtually ALL developments that led to the first atomic bombs, regardless of where in the world they took place. Before and during World War II, experiments and theoretical studies in many nations advanced the "state of the art" of knowledge about how nuclear reactions could be used to create incredibly destructive weapons.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Joe Pardue on June 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was born about the time that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists first featured the Doomsday Clock and lived my formative years under the threat of nuclear annihilation. I can remember many times looking at a contrail in the sky and wondering if this was finally it? As a young adult I worked in Oak Ridge at the X-10 plant and got to see first-hand some of the artifacts of what Baggot calls `The First War of Physics'. I was in awe of the events that could have destroyed civilization. And I've often wondered how we managed not to destroy ourselves. Baggot's book is very well written and follows the important scientific, historical, and political events. His style flows well and at times makes the reading compelling almost like reading a novel. You see the ideas behind the science, the personalities that made the discoveries, and the truly frightening politics of the time. There are many events in this story that could easily lead to moralizing on the part of an author, but Baggot avoids the temptation and fairly expresses the concerns of the folks involved without taking a side. I strongly recommend this book.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By James Palmer on August 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I agree very much with the previous comments and conclusions of Joe Pardue "Smiley's" review. My only addition would be to say that over the years I have read a good deal about this subject in books by Norris, Herken, Groves, Groueff and Feynman. This is the most complete, and yet concise, version of the story including the efforts in Europe as well as in the United States. Best of all is his unbiased approach and resistance to making moral conclusions about this complicated subject. If I could ever get my son-in-law to read it he might understand all of the facts which lead to the difficult decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
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