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By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age Paperback – September 30, 1994

ISBN-13: 978-0807844809 ISBN-10: 0807844802 Edition: 1ST

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By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age + Atomic Culture: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Atomic History & Culture) + Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1ST edition (September 30, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807844802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807844809
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #426,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Of the many books inspired by the 40-year anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, this certainly is one of the best. Boyer, an adept cultural historian, unravels the diverse reactions to the advent of the nuclear era between 1945 and 1950. The enormity of what had occurred caused disorientation among intellectuals and the general public alike. Basic beliefs wavered, contradictions emerged, and attitudes changed in a short period of time. Boyer traces scientific, literary, philosophical, and religious implications of the new weapon, revealing his own wit and commitment as well as historical skill. His neglect of the emergence of Abstract Expressionism as a major cultural response to the bomb stands as one of the few shortcomings in this fine, readable book. Highly recommended. Charles K. Piehl, Director of Grants Management, Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Very well written. . . . Both far-ranging and thorough."

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christopher W. Chase on April 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Paul Boyer is well known as a scholar of American millenialism, both religious and secular, from his book "When Time Shall Be No More", but gathering slightly less attention is his impressive volume "By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age." Boyer is a cultural historian, and grew up a pacifist, so its no surprise that he frames the years 1945 to 1950 as years of fierce contention over the role of nuclear weapons and energy in American society. His overarching thesis, is precisely that---the years of 1945-1950 showed a sharp swing from grave concern and fear over nuclear energy to visions of nuclear promise and technological utopias, promulgated by the U.S. government and the Atomic Energy Agency, with vocal, dissenting minorities present at each pendulum swing. Boyer speculates that this may form a model for subsequent generations' relationship with nuclear energy, from care to indifference and back again.
Boyer's method is to examine evidence of public thought and conversations during these five years, from "letters to the editor" of newspapers, to intellectual journals of thought, to cartoonists, to the literary world of William Faulkner and Gertrude Stein, to religious organizational bulletins. He makes skillful use of primary sources, demonstrating that while majority opinions could be clearly demonstrated to have existed, undercurrents of contention and dissention remained at each step.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, discourse on the threat of nuclear arms has all but vanished, relegated to a relatively quiet resurgence of the Star Wars debate and to a few footnotes on the developmental history of the internet. Despite this current hiatus in nuclear consciousness, every American living today has at least a passing acquaintance with the concept of atomic annihilation; sitcoms, government press releases, popular films, and news media are inconstant but persistent reminders of the nuclear threat. Paul Boyer's By the Bomb's Early Light traces these media as they shaped and reflected American consciousness at the birth of the atomic age.
Despite Boyer's professed pacifism and his personal views regarding the ultimately menacing nature of the atomic bomb, the various events, opinions, and artifacts cited are evenly presented. This objectivity, however, makes for rather dry reading, especially when Boyer's connective tissue is compared with the lofty literary attempts to come to terms with the inconceivable he quotes throughout. This work might be more effective if it gave itself over completely to the format it seems to yearn for: an assemblage of excerpts and passages from the original works with Boyer's commentary confined to sidebars and brief introductory essays. Of course, Boyer's goal was to produce a comprehensive volume of reference material drawing from a myriad of venues and disciplines, not a coffee table book about atomic kitsch of the 1940's. While not as entertaining as the latter and by no means a cover-to-cover page-turner, By The Bomb's Early Light serves as an excellent resource and starting point for further research.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By bjcefola on May 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
This work is a survey of American attitudes toward nuclear power immediately after WWII, as reflected in journalism and advocacy work. The book covers the immediate post-war years, 1945 - 1950. It describes how people overcame their fear of the bomb by developing a willful ignorance, aided in no small part by the strenuous propaganda efforts of the government.

There are interesting tidbits- how scientists went from objects of esteem to objects of ridicule, the ties between the bomb and sex, and the willingness of our government to mount domestic misinformation campaigns. But what most struck me was the initial public reaction to the bomb, and how similar it was to 9/11.

People were shocked and terrified by the news of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite the fact that it was us who dropped the bombs. At the conclusion of WWII people thought another world war in which atomic bombs would be used against American cities was inevitable. Radical ideas abounded, with some calling for a global government, others for the deconstruction of cities in favor of low density dispersed settlements (suburbs). Everywhere there was fear, and a pervasive belief that the way of life people knew from before the war was gone forever. Everything changed with the bomb.

Sound familiar? The threat of mass destruction is not new to America, it wasn't invented on 9/11. It was invented by us generations ago. Our parents learned to cope with it then, this book gives a look at how they did it.
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