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Heisenberg's War: The Secret History Of The German Bomb Paperback – August 11, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this important study, Powers addresses one of the lingering mysteries of WW II: why Germany, with its able scientists, material resources and the support of high military officials, failed to build an atom bomb. Throughout the war Allied authorities, fearing that the Germans would "get there first," took steps to thwart their apparent efforts toward that end: the commando raid that destroyed the heavy-water plant in Norway, for instance, and the scheme to assassinate preeminent physicist Werner Heisenberg. Powers also describes how the Allies learned that the Germans never even came close to producing the Bomb, and he examines the popular theory that German scientists concocted a postwar story of moral compunction to excuse their failure. Sifting through the evidence, Powers concludes that Heisenberg did not exercise passive resistance but actually "killed" the Bomb program by convincing the authorities that it was unfeasible. But the question remains: why did Heisenberg not take credit for his heroic action? Powers is author of The Man Who Kept the Secrets. Photos. BOMC, History Book Club and QPB alternates.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

The biographer of CIA director Richard Helms ( The Man Who Kept the Secrets , LJ 10/1/79) has written an easy-to-read, well-researched book on the Nazi quest for an atomic bomb. The Allies rightly feared such German scientists as Werner Heisenberg, held by many to be one of the world's greatest physicists, who for reasons still perplexing refused to leave Germany after Hitler's rise. Yet there was no viable German bomb project, merely a small-scale research endeavor that failed in several attempts to produce a self-perpetuating chain reaction. Powers makes a highly credible attempt to assemble known facts from a history shrouded in secrecy and the ambiguity resulting from the destruction of many relevant documents and evidence. However, the book is somewhat marred by the author's tendency to wax philosophical, raising as many questions about the German bomb as he attempts to answer. Recommended for academic and general collections.
- Thomas G. Anton, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (August 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306810115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306810114
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #706,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Theron Fairchild ( on November 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
The story of the German atomic bomb project has inspired controversy and invited investigation for over half a century. In his book, Thomas Powers has combined his experience as a writer with years of exhaustive research to form a fresh and in-depth interpretation of these events. Powers' focus is Werner Heisenberg, one of the world's foremost physicists in the 1920s and `30s, who elected to remain in Nazi Germany even after most of his colleagues had fled.
Heisenberg, the most famous physicist in wartime Germany, was chosen to head Germany's nuclear research program. Yet, in his own version of events after the war, Heisenberg stated that there was never a danger of a German atomic bomb, despite fear in the U.S. at the time, because the German nuclear research program never focused on weapons and most of the project's scientists had no interest in making such a weapon for the National Socialists. Heisenberg's story, however, was treated with intense skepticism after the war by his friends and colleagues outside Germany, who forever saw Heisenberg as guilty by association. Powers, however, has challenged this accepted belief through intensive research into both new and old documents, and through a number of interviews with those who were in some way involved with the events. Powers conducts a thorough investigation and uses his expertise in writing about secret activities to expose the prejudices that have condemned Heisenberg. Powers addresses the issue from a different starting point and relies on the evidence to generate a new conclusion which ultimately exonerates Heisenberg from the guilt by association judgment.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Alaturka on December 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Here we see why Thomas Powers is a Pulitzer class writer. This is an excellent investigation of a very charged, complex but immensly interesting topic and the tragic life of maybe one of the brightest men in history of science. Powers takes us through the golden years of physics, birth of quantum mechanics, key figures surrounding this unique period, the international brotherhood and the total darkness and bitterness that shattered it in the wake of WWII. Having grown up in the aftermath of the Great War, Heisenberg, the smartest pupil of the "Great Dane", Niels Bohr, finds himself suddenly on the "other" side again in 1939. In spite of the fact that he never joins the Nazi party, an arrogance that he can afford due to his immmense popularity and fame, he was still considered to be a very dangerous tool of Hitler's ambitions by almost all of his old freinds. There was good reason to fear, for he had the means and the knowledge to put fission into the service of his country for peaceful and non-peaceful purposes. Worst of all, he had refused to jump ship and leave Germany, his country, at the beginning of hostilities. Powers goes into great detail of so called the German Atomic Bomb project, which turns out to be non-existent. Heisenberg cleverly plays the establishment to put war in the service of physics not the other way around as he puts it. Incredibly detailed and solid research Powers has done supports this view of Heisenberg's war activities. His detractors, old friends, many of them jews who have lost family in concentration camps, hold the view that Heisenberg was asked by Hitler to build a bomb but he simply did not know how to do it.Read more ›
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer X on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is amazing on so many different levels I am not really sure where to begin. It is an amazingly well written, compelling, insightful, and utterly fascinating book on it's own. Fortunately, it is so much more than just a really well written book, it is TRUE story that everyone needs to read. It is book about a true hero, a courageous man who risked his life and his reputation to save tens of millions of lives. I don't really want to give too much away, but it answers a question that many World War 2 historians want to know: WHY didn't the Germans create the Atomic Bomb? Well, there is one word for why, Heisenberg. This man stayed in Germany and deliberately sabotaged the Nazi's attempts to make the bomb.
In a world where people struggle to find heroes and gather up courage it is a shame not many people know this story. I think many people would be amazed at the sacrafices one very proud man would endure to save the world. Please read this book, you will not be disappointed.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By john F kuehler on August 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
The title Hesienberg's war is slightly misleading, since the book not only covers the German bomb effort but also the climate that lead to and the ensuing effort in the allied bomb effort. I have read books about the allied effort, and it seems this book has much of factual information they contained, as well as the German effort, which they do not discuss. But most importantly, I think the pre-war chapters about the history of Quantum Mechanics and the friendships that blossomed between the founders during this revolution, then followed by chapters on how politics, anti-Semitism (Jewish physics, verses Duetche physics) and the NAZI atrocities that forever tarnished these friendships forged in during the most creative period in modern physics. The meeting of Bohr and Heseinberg in Copenhagen is presented in a fair mater, and even though the author offers an opinion on the role of Hesienberg the German effort, I believe he presents the material in a fair manner leaving it up to the reader to decide for themselves.
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