78 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2006
Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" is my favorite nonfiction book. I hesitated to read this one for several years only because of reviews that slammed the book for dwelling too much on Soviet espionage and atomic bomb development and not enough on the actual physics of thermonuclear weapons design.
The criticism is accurate inasmuch as this book is much less about physics than its predecessor. "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" took the reader through the major breakthroughs of atomic physics, the relationships between the most influential scientists of the twentieth century, and finally how all of these brilliant individuals influenced, directly or indirectly, the Manhattan Engineering Dist. and allied atomic bomb research.
The story of Dark Sun is much different. "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" told the story of scientists and nations coming together to defeat the Axis powers. "Dark Sun" tells the story of how weapons of mass destruction polarized scientists, nations, military sects, and political mindsets (Edward Teller and E.O. Lawrences pro-thermonuclear detterence and Oppenheimer's international control camps, Soviets vs. Western powers, etc.).
It is this polarization that is the primary concern of Rhodes. Having covered the issue of nuclear fission in his previous book, all that is left scientifically is the fusion of the light elements, the use of radiation implosion, and some other admittedly difficult engineering breakthroughs necessary to sustain a thermonuclear reaction. The result was merely to boost weapons already designed for mass industrial bombing to even more terrifying megaton proportions.
Faced with the fact that after the war Los Alamos ceased to be a barracks of every influential scientific mind in the United States and became a sort of post-war arms race machine, Rhodes takes the emphasis off the scientists and puts it onto the socio-political mindset that leads to the idea of detterence, of keeping a peace-time nuclear arsenal of tremendous strength, of treating a former wartime ally as a deadly threat.
So while the focus of the book is different, I feel that it was different, not so much in a way that makes "Dark Sun" more interesting than "Making the Atomic Bomb", but in a way that was necessary and makes for perhaps a more historically relevent read. Rhodes analysis is top notch and the espionage reading is actually quite interesting, particualy as it disrobes the kind of sophisticated James Bond style clandestine operative most people continue to associate with spy-work.
I feel this book is an essential follow-up to "Making the Atomic Bomb".
79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2002
I just finished reading this monumental book. Although at first I was surprised that Rhodes devoted so many pages to covering Soviet espionage on the Manhattan Project and subsequent atomic bomb work, it quickly became clear that he was writing a history not just of the H-bomb, but of the Cold War, its impetus, and one of its key drivers and manifestations, the arms race.
This book is essential to understanding a critical period of world history that is no less relevant now that the Cold War is over. The picture this provides of the scientists and administrators of the weapons teams on both sides is fascinating and reveals new evidence and clearer perspectives on issues that many of us grew up thinking about, such as the trial of the Rosenbergs and the effort to tar Oppenheimer's reputation.
The only area in which I found myself seriously questioning Rhodes's conclusions (perhaps unfairly, since 7 years and some key events have transpired since he wrote them), was in the area of nuclear terrorism and its deterrence.
An engrossing read.
64 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2005
Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb is a fascinating historical work that reads almost like a novel; perhaps a particularly technical Clancy novel, but a novel nevertheless. It targets a general audience and balances the consequent need for clarity with depth and technical detail, and with great success.
Rhodes starts by taking us through America's Manhattan Project, a subject he dealt with in depth in his earlier book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb. This time he focuses on the political elements of the project and with Soviet espionage. Klaus Fuchs is a major character in Dark Sun; in TMAB, which deals in much more depth with the scientific and technical problems behind atom bomb development, Fuchs has only a minor role. Here the scene switches back and forth between the U.S. and the USSR, where Igor Kurchatov takes charge of the Soviet nuclear program under secret police head Lavrenti Beria.
The early focus on espionage and Soviet work is important in this book; the subtitle, The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, refers to the political impetus behind the bomb, not the scientific and technical issues. There were formidable technical difficulties in the design of the first hydrogen bomb, but nothing that would warrant the same in-depth examination of basic science that appears in the earlier book. It becomes clear in the course of Dark Sun that the making of thermonuclear weapons was driven by politics, not military need or science (not to minimize the role of politics in atomic bomb development, but that was also the result of extravagantly brilliant scientists pursuing basic and often unexpected research in physics). And much of that political impetus was the result of American shock that the Soviets detonated an atomic bomb as soon as they did, years sooner than American scientists and policy makers believed that they could. Hence the importance of Fuchs and Beria.
Also prominent in this book is Edward Teller. His obsession with thermonuclear weapons seems a powerful force behind American policy development. It's always seemed to me that Ulam was as much the father of the hydrogen bomb as Teller, but Rhodes convinces me that Teller deserves that sobriquet on the basis of his political efforts more than on the basis of his technical efforts. As the making of the atomic bomb was the result of extraordinary scientific and technical achievement, the making of the hydrogen bomb was the result of extraordinary political will. Much of that will was Teller's.
That will was also destructive. The book closes with an examination of the fallout from obsession with the Soviet threat and the way that bomb research was pursued in this country. I think that Rhodes overestimates the costs of the nuclear arms race by misallocating them, and he draws too strong a link between thermonuclear research and America's fraying infrastructure. He also gives short shrift to the case that our obsession with the Soviet threat was almost inevitable and necessary given Soviet behavior and the opacity of their motives at the time. I think Rhodes' treatment of Teller betrays a certain bias. If there's a villain in this book it isn't Fuchs, but Teller. Teller's role in the destruction of Oppenheimer wasn't meaningless and it wasn't an episode of which he should be proud, but Teller wasn't the devil. He was a man motivated by fear, and it was a fear of forces and events he didn't create. Teller was even less responsible for the cold war than he was the scientific father of the hydrogen bomb. I think Rhodes could have found a better villain.
In the context of the book I think these objections are small points; putting them aside, I think this book is very good.
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2007
The Pulitzer Prize-winning treatise "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (1987) was the well-deserved claim-to-fame for American journalist and historian Richard Rhodes. The deservedly eminent nuclear pundit's follow-up book, Dark Sun (1995), attempts to provide an accurate historical account of the hydrogen bomb's development. The book is written for a non-expert audience, yet still provides enough technical information to give the reader a basic understanding of nuclear technology without inducing a migraine headache. Dark Sun aims to elucidate the technical achievement, political chicanery, and ethical controversy surrounding the production of thermonuclear weapons.
In the first section of the book, Rhodes uses declassified U.S. archive documents to trace the historical development of the hydrogen bomb from the discovery of fission to the first thermonuclear detonation in 1952. Rhodes does not focus on the ethical dilemmas per se; nonetheless, three of them feature prominently throughout the book. The first of those questions is probably the most obvious: given their indiscriminate and immensely destructive nature, should these weapons ever have been developed in the first place? Repeating a similar discussion from "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (almost verbatim) he recounts the Scientists' understandably conflicted feelings. But Rhodes makes no effort to disguise his obvious disdain for both Edward Teller and his brainchild, believing the bomb's only function to be committing "omnicide".
The second portion of Dark Sun deals with the Soviet's nuclear espionage program, whose roots extend back to World War II. Rhodes argues that Soviet technical advancement depended almost entirely on espionage; as such, he uses newly (early 1990s) declassified KGB documents to show how effective the Soviets were in assuring that virtually every American breakthrough was quickly mirrored in the Soviet Union. Rhodes argues that this seemingly fluid transfer of technology and the subsequent success of the Soviet program would only have been possible with the help of certain individuals. He argues that Klaus Fuchs, the Rosenbergs and/or "Perseus" were sending the Soviets fusion-bomb designs (mainly Teller's) as early as 1946. During the early 1990s, former NKVD agent Pavel Sudoplatov alleged that Robert Oppenheimer himself was a source of information, but Rhodes goes out of his way to convince the reader that, contrary to Teller's allegations, Oppenheimer was an innocent victim of the political brouhaha accompanying the McCarthy-driven "red scare". The espionage section culminates in the Rosenberg's execution in 1953 for treason, a sentence Rhodes finds murderously unfair. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the execution was in fact a political memorandum to the Soviets stating that the United States' takes its national security seriously. In hindsight, failure to exact harsh punishment would have demonstrated a lack in resolve and would have been viewed as proof-positive that the U.S. is so weak that it cannot even bring known spies to justice. This in-turn would probably have resulted in a dramatic increase in Soviet espionage activity.
The concepts of espionage and technology transfer gives rise to the first moral quandary: horizontal proliferation. Rhodes does a brilliant job of recounting the ethical dilemmas faced by scientists and policy makers at the time. The willingness of American scientists to "betray their country" and pass on nuclear secrets to the Soviets can be understood if one pictures the geopolitical attitudes at the time (the US and Russia just fought a war as allies) and if one viewed nuclear hegemony as catastrophically destabilizing. For policy makers the primary question was (and still is) one of usage: against whom and under what conditions should these weapons be used? Rhodes does a marvelous job of describing the personal sentiments and interpersonal relationships of those involved. The political struggle between Oppenheimer and Teller regarding leadership and nuclear policy is discussed ad nauseam. Nevertheless, Rhodes makes a very convincing argument that Teller's obstinate refusal to compromise on bomb design severely jeopardized the H-bomb's development. In fact the project would have been scrapped, were it not for Marshall Holloway, Cornelius Everett, Carson Mark, and Stanislaw Ulam.
Dark Sun's final section concerns events during the Cold War, from the blockade of Berlin to the Korean War and how these incidents set the tone for the ensuing arms-race. While it is relatively clear that neither side wished for war, many on both sides perceived the looming cataclysm as all but inevitable. Rhodes makes some controversial assertions about U.S. Cold War military doctrine, specifically, what he regards as the potentially catastrophic risks run by the Strategic Air Command. He suggests that General Curtis E. LeMay had the ability to start World War III at a whim, a notion that unrealistically marginalizes the available safety protocols and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of contingency measures.
Contrary to the rest of his historically accurate exposition, Rhodes' hypothesis that the world teetered on the brink of nuclear holocaust during the first decade of the Cold War is both logically flawed and historically inaccurate. In point of fact, the scarcity of deliverable Soviet nuclear weapons in the ten years following WWII suggests that the only ones facing potential annihilation were the Soviets, at least until 1955 (W. Lambers - Nuclear Weapons). By Rhodes own admission, it was during that particular period of time that the United States' arsenal grew to several thousand deliverable nuclear weapons. This overwhelming advantage encouraged hawkish leaders like General LeMay to consider a preemptive strike against the Soviet's infantile nuclear capability. The possibility of a preventative strike against the budding Soviet arsenal delineates one final ethical dilemma that one might derive from Dark Sun: Would a preemptive strike against Soviet nuclear facilities in the late 1940s or early 1950s have been preferable to a Cold War that endured for half a century, risked the lives of millions (possibly billions), and left most of the Eurasian continent in economic shambles? Not to mention the number of under-developed countries around the world, formerly in one of the "spheres of influence" that still struggle with economic stagnation and relentless civil-conflict, fueled by the deluge of surplus Russian small-arms. Is all of that worth 100,000 lives? 200,000? Half a million? Opinions will vary; needless to say Dark Sun does not have the answer.
Rhodes takes on the ambitious task of trying to show both the American and Soviet perspectives. This was a mistake because it resulted in the sacrifice of coherency in favor of inclusivity. Dark Sun's discussion of the Soviet perspective suffers from a dire lack of supporting documentation, which only serves to detract from the book's overall quality. Rhodes should have limited his coverage of the Soviet program to the American point of view. Stalin and the Bomb by David Holloway does a much better job of analyzing the Soviet experience.
While its simultaneous coverage of American and Soviet endeavors to acquire a fusion weapon is unparalleled, Rhodes falls short of his reputed narrative brilliance evinced in "The Making of the Atomic Bomb". The primary reason for this dearth in quality is the lack of information actually pertaining to thermonuclear weapons or their technical development.
Dark Sun has its shortcomings and does not contain much information that has not already been covered by scholars like Eric Rosenberg or Lawrence Freedman. Nevertheless, Rhodes makes excellent use of interviews and declassified documents, successfully demonstrating that the H-Bomb was not a spontaneous development, but rather the culmination of a series of technical achievements, strategic perceptions and policy directives.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 1999
Format: Audio Cassette
This book gives you the strange feeling of being absolutely riveted to a dry and technical story line. It is woven with pure science but peppered with fascinating accounts of personal lives. One of my thoughts throughout the reading of this book was: "My god! Why isn't this material classified! How did this get published?" If you have any curiousity about how atomic and hydrogen bombs actually work, you won't have much to wonder about after reading this.
I'm not sure whether Richard Rhodes is a genius in his writing or whether these geeky scientists just happened to be utterly fascinating people, but I was totally absorbed by the lives and details of the physists as they struggled to make the bombs. Throw in the intrige of the american spies, giving away the U.S.'s most precious secrets for a naive and unfulfilled ideology, and Curtis LeMay's chilling "performance" as the mad SAC bomber and you have a story no writer could ever have concocted. The truth is stranger than fiction. All this against the backdrop of WWII and the Cold War history will change your perception of all the events of the past 60 years that you thought you were so familiar with.
I read this book before his earlier book "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", which I will read soon. Richard Rhodes has been on a recent History Channel show too, and was very interesting on camera, as well. Enjoy!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 1997
I have just finished Rhodes' "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen
Bomb". Some years ago I reluctantly finished his book on the Manhattan
Project, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb". I say reluctantly because the
breadth of his scholarship was amazing and I did not want to leave when
he had finished writing. Happily he has followed up with "Dark Sun".
Rhodes weaves an engrossing account of the scientists who worked in the
last days of WWII on the atomic bomb and their internal controversy on
whether or not to pursue "the super", the hydrogen bomb. Against this
he also describes the Soviet Union's attempts to rebuild their country
while keeping pace with America. Russian scientists, though, were
threatened with the paranoia of Stalin and his henchman Lavrentia
Beria. Connecting the two continents is the espionage story of Klaus
Fuchs, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Harold Gold.
Rhodes blends the three narratives together, furnishing his own original
scholarship, in a taut fashion which keeps one turning the pages.
Rhodes also deals with the destruction of Robert Oppenheimer by his
rival Edward Teller, whose insecurity and jealousy arguably started the
destructive arms race. The most frightening aspect of this story,
however, is the borderline insubordination of Gen. Curtis LeMay,
commander of SAC, who urged Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy to
preepmtively strike the Soviet Union.
Rhodes deftly mixes biography, history, science and social commentary in
the intriguing tale and terrifying tale of the ultimate weapon. And
it's all true. Highly recommended.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 1997
Rhodes' earlier "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" won a Pulitzer prize; I thought this was even better. The first part is an account of Soviet espionage into the Manhattan project; Rhodes lets us in on all the mundane details while allowing the inherent drama to come through in full force.
The second part was even more of a revelation: I never thought the nature of the "technically sweet" innovation that saved the
H-bomb project would be revealed to the public during my lifetime, but it's spelled out here. I also never thought I'd understand in detail how an H-bomb works, but Rhodes makes it both comprehensible and fascinating.
Chapter 24 is the heart of the book--a description of the Mike shot, the world's first thermonuclear explosion. Don't start reading it if you have to go somewhere soon. A classic case of "I couldn't put it down".
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2002
I was disappointed in this book. It was primarily a history of Soviet Espionage in the atomic era with very little in the way of history and details about the hydrogen bomb. It details recollections of Soviet Spies in mind-numbing detail throughout the development of the atomic bomb, with very little attention devoted to the time during the development of the hydrogen bomb. I think the title of the book is completely misleading. I give it 3 stars because if the history of atomic espionage is your thing, this book is for you. Also because I was startled by the extent and reach of Soviet intelligence. But this is not why I bought the book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Richard Rhodes' 1995 "Dark Sun" is the well-written and provocative sequel to his Pulizter Prize-winning "The Making of the Atomic Bomb." "Dark Sun", with some overlap, picks up the story with intertwined narratives about the making of the thermonuclear bomb, the espionage that allowed the Soviets to keep pace, and the Cold War atmosphere in which it all took place. One need not agree with all of Rhodes' conclusions to appreciate the depth of his research and the span of his narrative.
Following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the end of the Second World War, the American scientific and policy communities were split over the necessity for the follow-on development of a hydrogen bomb. Many of the original Manhatten Project scientists were shocked by the results of the atomic bomb and could scarcely conceive that a more destructive weapon might be useful. The result would be painful infighting, not least between Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, the leading scientific advocates against and for the hydrogen bomb.
For U.S. policy-makers, the fragile wartime alliance with the Soviet Union was already in tatters. Russia's brutal imposition of communist rule in Eastern Europe, its paranoid security policies, and its own rapid bomb development program put the Truman Administration in the political bind of having to compete with the Soviet Union whether it wanted to or not.
Rhodes does an excellent job tracing the Soviet nuclear weapons program through the efforts of its leading scientists, every bit the equal of their western counterparts and materially aided by their secret knowledge of the work that had already been accomplished in the Manhatten Project. Soviet espionage inside the U.S. and British nuclear programs saved years of work, enabling the Russians to field an atomic bomb by 1949 and a hydrogen bomb by 1955, much faster than predicted.
Rhodes' view of the subsequent arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, and the state of nuclear deterrence that was its outcome, is dark and pessimistic. In his undoubted horror at what might have happened, he rather fails to give credit to policy-makers for what did not happen, a nuclear exchange. Rhodes' claim that a more peaceful alternative history to the Cold War was prevented by aggressive US post-war policy is not confirmed by much of Cold War scholarship since 1995. Nevertheless, "Dark Sun" is highly recommended to students of the Cold War, not least for its clear lay-person explanation of the possibilities of the hydrogen bomb.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2001
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
After reading the first one, I just had to read the second, and I wasn't disappointed. This book is almost more a history of the beginnings of the Cold War than of thermonuclear weapons. I had no idea that the Soviet espionage network in the United States during World War II was so extensive. Rhodes had me hooked with the accounts of Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, the Rosenbergs, and the wholesale espionage that occurred as a result of Lend-Lease. As with The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Rhodes shows both sides very well. I had always believed that the U.S. was exclusively the good guy in the early years of the Cold War until I read Rhodes' account of Curtis LeMay's attempts to precipitate World War III in the fifties. This book was a real eye-opener for me to the paranoid political climate of the time. And the description of the Mike shot was both awesome and terrifying. This book really makes you appreciate just how real the threat of universal annihilation is. If you've read the first book, you have to read this one.