From Publishers Weekly
Nuclear weapons have been an immutable aspect of the world for the past 60 years. The story of how they came to be, and the race between the Allied and Axis nations to be the first to harness the destructive power of the atom, is wonderfully told by British historian Preston (A First Rate Tragedy
; etc.). She weaves together history, physics, politics and military strategies to convey both the monumental scientific achievement the bomb represented and, at the same time, the ethical and humanitarian implications of creating such a wild power. Preston is an impeccable researcher with a gift for choosing small details that illuminate and humanize the bomb's world-changing effects. She quotes a doctor in Hiroshima saying the mass of burned flesh around him smelled like "dried squid when it is grilled--the squid we like so much to eat"; elsewhere, Preston relates that the potential explosive effect of a chain-reaction atomic bomb was first calculated on the back of a napkin. This is a story with a reservoir of events heroic and horrible and a fabulous cast of characters that includes scientists Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller and Hans Bethe, and world leaders Roosevelt, Churchill, Truman, Stalin, Emperor Hirohito and Hitler. Preston presents each with rare insight and expertise. But her rarer achievement is to capture not only the work of making the bomb with its myriad ramifications for humankind, but also the ineffably human qualities--curiosity, ambition, fear, patriotism--that animated the participants in the great drama. 50 b&w illus.
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Readers wont mind that this book offers nothing new about a subject that has been thoroughly examined. Prestons what-if scenarios are as fascinating as her portraits of the players, from Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer to FDR, Emperor Hirohito, and Hitler. Prestons focus on the lesser-known personalities, including physicist Werner Heisenberg, chemist Ida Noddack, and Lise Meitner (who explained nuclear fission for the first time), distinguishes Before the Fallout
from other accounts of the creation of the nuclear bomb. Preston, author of The Boxer Rebellion
, also describes the underlying science well, rarely failing to connect it to its social implications. "In this 60th-anniversary year, when new books about the bomb are as ubiquitous as self-help tomes," writes the San Francisco Chronicle
, "Prestons achievement is a rare one."
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.