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Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War

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ISBN-13: 978-0691128184
ISBN-10: 0691128189
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Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War + The Rise of Nuclear Fear + Competing with the Soviets: Science, Technology, and the State in Cold War America (Johns Hopkins Introductory Studies in the History of Science)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on evidence that the atomic bomb was regarded as a weapon like any other before its first use, Princeton University's Gordin offers a concise and provocative reinterpretation of the beginning of the nuclear age. For the American military commanders in charge of the bomb, the main consideration was whether it would destroy enemy personnel and infrastructure as part of a "shock strategy" for winning Japan's unconditional surrender. Launching the nuclear missions from Tinian Island, the B-29 airplane base, further normalized the bomb's use within the matrix of Pacific island combat. Consideration of such special characteristics as radiation was muted until after the Japanese capitulation—indeed, discussions of a "Third Shot," with Tokyo the probable target, continued until the successful American occupation began in September 1945. The initially overwhelming support of the American public for the nuclear strikes reflected a belief that the war might have lasted more than another year. Even in that context, half the population opposed using gas in an attack—another indication, according to Gordin, that the atom bomb's special status was a postwar development. His worthy study concludes that the bomb's uniqueness has inappropriately encouraged Japan's reluctance to recognize and evaluate its war responsibility, and points toward the importance of examining nuclear weapons outside the familiar context of a nuclear standoff. (Feb.)
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Review

"Michael D. Gordin's worthy study concludes that the bomb's uniqueness has inappropriately encouraged Japan's reluctance to recognize and evaluate its war responsibility, and points toward the importance of examining nuclear weapons outside the familiar context of a nuclear standoff."--Publishers Weekly

"Gordin has done an excellent job in surveying the diverse views on what happened during those momentous five days in August 1945."--John Krige, Science

"In this brief but impressive work, Gordin takes a fresh, unique look at a much-studied topic. Although he touches on the development of the atomic bomb, his main concern is how scientists, politicians, and military planners from the bomb's inception to the present have viewed this new weapon."--J.L. Gall, Choice

"In addition to lucid and careful summaries of the issues, a particular virtue of this book is the substantial and well-chosen collection of documents from American and Japanese sources."--Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs

"Five Days in August is brief and accessible, effectively communicating even technical and scientific concepts, and would be of use to the history or international relations classroom. This reevaluation of 'nuclearism' is a timely study, worthy of consideration and discussion."--Stephanie L. Trombley, Historian

"This author has written a stimulating book that brims with insights and is based on an impressive amount of research. . . . Gordin has written a challenging book that ranges far beyond the five days mentioned in his title."--Robert James Maddox, The Historian

"This short book grips the general reader and leads the curious on to longer and more scholarly writings."--Edwin R. McCullough, European Legacy

"Refreshingly nonpolemical, Five Days in August is a must read for those interested in atomic history, the final stages of World War II, and the future of nuclear weapons."--William J. Astore, Proceedings

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691128189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691128184
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Gordin is professor of history at Princeton University, where he specializes in the history of the modern physical sciences and Russian history.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Roger B. Searle on February 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is a quick and interesting read. The central question explored is: From their onset, were atomic bombs viewed a qualitatively distinct "special" from other weapons coming out of the Second World War, or was this attitude subsequently, though quickly, developed? The author suggests by thorough analysis the latter. He reasons that this was driven by the public's fear of these weapons once they learned of them, and also by the political usefulness of the idea in the United States, Japan and the Soviet Union.

His subtle but persistent probing on this and related questions suggests how issues of current interest may be handled by political, scientific and public groups. For example, do weapons of mass destruction actually intensify conventional war because at least they are not nuclear? And, how are technological revolutions and/or threats managed, particularly under urgent conditions?

With 144 pages of probing and logically tight writing and an additional 48 pages of references, it is feels a scholarly publication intended to generate serious discussion.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Esquilan on May 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This books explains how the atomic bomb acquired its mythical status in a few days in August 1945. This status was not justified by the destructive power of the then-produced bombs. Rather, it came from visions of apocalypse which would only become realistic many years later, reinforced by American propaganda and above all the reaction of the Japanese government, which needed a good excuse for surrendering. The author's main thesis is that it is the Japanese surrender which made the atomic bomb special, rather than the special power of the bomb making Japan surrender.

The book is however rather brief and the argument feels somewhat incomplete although not in my opinion biased as the author does not ignore the facts which do not go his way. It is anyway very healthy to critically think on the atomic bomb's mythology, which has itself been playing an important role in history. For instance, the author argues that it is more this mythology than the actual strength of America's atomic arsenal which helped prevent a Soviet invasion of Western Europe in the late 1940s. Moreover, this book brings a welcome focus on the issue of effectively using the bomb, which is of course as important as being able to procuce it. And it is interesting to see how irrelevant such later questions as the necessity of the dropping of a second atomic bomb and the dangers from radiations were to the men of August 1945.
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By rtohio on October 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Essential reading if you hope to understand the use of nuclear weapons in WW2!
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13 of 48 people found the following review helpful By F. Stop Fitzgerald on April 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I don't know what is in this book, I haven't gotten past the cover.

While the Bell VB-13 (later ASM-A-1) Tarzon bomb looks impressive, it never was a nuclear weapon nor was it intended to be one.

If the publishers didn't attend to this most obvious of the book's details, how did they address its lesser known points, which after all, are why readers would buy this book?
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