on November 16, 2013
The author of this book explores the development of nuclear power and nuclear fission by scientists in Nazi Germany during the period of 1939-1949. He also examines other aspects of the impacts of these projects on German culture, philosophy, economy, military potential, industrial practices, politics, and social forces.
This book is a bridging work that gathers the many different facets and threads of the Nazi nuclear endeavors. To do so is not an easy task. This reviewer spent over 8+ years researching this same history and found it to be complicated, extremely fragmented, and incomplete. This author has done my research for me with this book.
Although this reviewer does not quite agree with the author's conclusion, this book is a tour de force for other investigators in this area of history (surprisingly, the text in this edition only runs for 233 pages: the author is quite succinct in his writing style).
This is a very good book, which is unfortunately difficult to find. It details the German nuclear program and why it did not lead to the atomic bomb. While an academic book, replete with footnotes and some diagrams (but no photographs), it is a very well-written, accessible to a general reader and very interesting. It is the contention of the author, backed up by his excellent scholarship, that while the German nuclear program was on a par with those of the allies up to about the end of 1941, the Germans came to a different conclusion than the allies regarding the possibility of a bomb being developed in time to influence the outcome of the war. The Germans felt that while making a bomb was possible, the war would be over before this could be done. In 1941 and early 1942 they believed that, in spite of the reverses in Russia, the war would be over in a year or so, and perhaps less. Also, believing that they were well ahead of the allies there was no fear that the allies could build one soon enough to influence the war. Thus, no serious effort was made to build a bomb. In contrast, the allies, recognized that the war would be a long and drawn out affair, so that a bomb could influence its outcome and that the Germans might be ahead in the race, so building one was a necessity lest the Germans have one first.
The author dispels the myth that the Germans did not understand how to make a bomb, or made fundamental errors regarding the physics and engineering involved. He shows that they understood how a nuclear reactor worked, developed different reactor designs and understood that a reactor could generate power and make material that could be used in a bomb. They understood that a bomb could be made with U235 or element 94 (Pu) and they developed all of the methods for separating U235 from the much more prevalent U238. In short, at least as of the end or 1941, their understand of the physics and engineering required for making a bomb was as far advanced as that of the allies. They just came to a different conclusion regarding the necessity of committing the vast amount of resources required to actually make a bomb. The author also dispels the myth that German scientists, particularly Werner Heisenberg, deliberately withheld information regarding bomb physics or tried to sabotage the bomb project. He shows, by citing documents and reports, that German scientists and engineers were forceful in stating that a powerful bomb could be built and throughout the war sought funding for research in this area. The decision not to build a bomb was economic and rational in view of their belief that the war would soon be over. By the time it became apparent that this was not going to be the case it was too late. The economic and manpower situation became steadily worse and even if they had wanted to, and could have built the vast engineering facilities that were required, allied or Soviet bombing would have destroyed them.
The author goes into the role of Werner Heisenberg in the development of the physics and engineering behind any possible bomb program and shows that it has been greatly exaggerated. He shows how the myths of the "German Bomb" came about and fully describes the efforts to clarify the history of the German efforts in the is area. Indeed his book is a very important one in dispelling these myths.
I recommend this book to those interested in WWII, the history of science and the history of the development of the atomic bomb. This book makes a great companion to Richard Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", which details the successful allied effort.
The same author has a newer book "Nazi Science: Myth, Truth, and the German Atomic Bomb", which judging from the table of contents and publishers material listed in Amazon, may contain some of the same information as this book, but may be easier to acquire.