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on March 7, 2009
For decades after the end of the WWII there has been a debate among the physicists and science/history researchers about the reasons why Germany didn't manage to develop a nuclear weapon in the 1940's. This was despite the fact that the Nazi regime had a six-month head-start in the uranium fission research (discovered at Otto Hahn's lab in 1938) and also among their ranks, Werner Heisenberg, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists at the time. Bernstein's book discloses both the secret recordings and his comments, on the dialogues taken place among some ten leading German nuclear scientists who were detained after the war at the Farm Hall, England, while their conversations were bugged and transcribed without their own knowledge. (The 1945 recordings were first released in 1992 and made available in the book "Operation Epsilon" published in 1993.) Based on the documents and other assorted evidence, it appears that Heisenberg, the main scientific leader of the uranium research under the Third Reich, had largely overestimated the amount of fissionable material needed to manufacture a nuclear bomb, and so he had instead steered towards a policy-program for building a working nuclear reactor, using heavy water as moderator. However, the latter substance was never enough in his possession due to destruction of the heavy water establishment in Vemork, Norway, in 1943 by a British partisan attack. In reality, despite the popular literature concentrating on him, Heisenberg was not the primary figure pursuing the German A-bomb, rather it was Paul Harteck, a physical chemist based at Hamburg who eventually moved to the USA in 1951.

It is interesting to note, while the American scientists had resorted to highly purified graphite as a moderator, Walter Bothe in Germany via an experimental error --after Heisenberg's initial suggestion-- had excluded its usefulness. The Manhattan Project had also undertaken the gaseous diffusion and electromagnetic separation methods to extract U235 from U238, something only Paul Harteck and Erich Bagge among the ten detained Germans had seriously worked on, this again according to the transcribed conversations. (Harteck had also persued the centrifuge method and this process nowadays bears his name.) Aside from the technical issues, the book suggests that a couple of these scientists had barely any significant part in the uranium project, and also several were content with the assumed fact that a nuclear weapon was infeasible for Germany to produce during the war, contemplating the moral and humanistic consequences of its usage. The highlight of the transcripts is the blackboard lecture of Heisenberg for his colleagues on the days after the Hiroshima attack, in which he nearly accurately explains how such a device must have been produced. The last few documents contain the detainees' exchanges about their future life after the war, for example even going to work for the Russians, or moving to Argentina to establish the commercial uses of the new technology and to make money in the process. In conclusion, I highly recommend reading this title to all the science researchers and history enthusiasts alike.
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on August 27, 2009
Unfortunately, the Kindle edition of this important and interesting book does not link correctly to the editor's notes and comments. These are absolutely essential -- this is a transcript, and the notes and comments clarify both historical and technical context. I finally had to get a printed copy of the book -- my Kindle edition was a waste of money!

Having read the printed copy, I give that edition very high marks. But don't buy the Kindle edition unless they fix the editorial notes and comments.
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on September 4, 2002
This book consists of expertly annotated transcripts of conversations of German scientists taken at Farm Hall after the end of the WWII in Europe. The book is based on the recently de-classified "Farm Hall Transcripts", a revealing set of informative statements which demonstrates the low level of understanding that the German Scientists had of how to build Atomic Bombs. It is written and annotated by an American physicist, so you get some insights as to Heisenberg's mistakes. The book is a refutation of the book "Heisenberg's War" by Thomas Powers, a revisionist history that claims that Heisenberg, Germany's top scientist, really knew how an Atomic Bomb worked, but withheld this information from his colleagues and the German Government.
Heisenberg remains a mystery. He won a Nobel Prize in Physics in the early 1930s for his "Uncertainty Principle" which deals with Quantum Mechanics. Yet despite his brilliance, he sounds pretty ignorant at Farm Hall. Was he faking? I think not. To paraphrase Watergate: the question still is "What did Werner Heisenberg know and when did he know it? At Farm Hall, when he found out about Hiroshima, his ego deflated like an untied balloon. His comments were made at a vulnerable and candid moment. They reveal a knowledge one would expect from someone you picked at random at a shopping mall.
The Manhattan Project was at least as much engineering as science, and Heisenberg was more of a theologian than a nuts 'n bolts guy.
But hey, don't take my word for it. If you are really interested, I recommend this book along with "Heisenberg's War" so you get both sides. Then read "Alsos" by Samuel Goudschmidt, the scientific leader of the famous Alsos Mission, who along with Col. Boris T. Pash ("The Alsos Mission"), followed the allied armies into France and captured Heisenberg and the others. Goudschmidt was a physicist who offered the earliest (1947) and perhaps the most philosophical postmortem on the German A-bomb "program".
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on March 19, 2001
Toward the end of World War II, ten German nuclear physicists were captured by American and British forces and sent to Farm Hall, An English country house near Cambridge for six months. While there they were interrogated about Germany's nuclear research. Farm Hall was a comfortable prison, but it was bugged and their every word was secretly monitored by British agents. Now in a revised and updated second edition, Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings At Farm Hall is a complete collection of transcripts made from those secret recordings in 1945. Expertly annotated by Jeremy Bernstein and put in context by Bernstein (and with an informative introduction by David Cassidy). This startling and sobering set of documents provide an insight into the thoughts and feelings of these ten scientists as they considered the destruction of the Third Reich, the failure of their beloved "German Physics", and the roles they played in the Nazi war effort. Hitler's Uranium Club is a unique, informative, invaluable, and at times unsettling contribution to World War II studies.
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on December 28, 2012
The one-star is only for the Kindle edition, as a warning.

The book itself appears to be excellent. I say "appears" because the editing for the Kindle edition was a disaster. The font can't be changed, and doesn't flow -- there are hyphens in the text where, presumably, there were hyphens in the printed text. Some of the footnotes in the (otherwise excellent) introduction are simply inserted in the middle of the main text, interrupting a sentence.

But at least you can read them. The real problem is that you cannot read ANY of the notes that DON'T interrupt the text. Yes, you read that correctly: The whole point of this edition is that it is annotated by an expert to provide context and help the lay reader. BUT YOU CANNOT READ THE ANNOTATIONS. They aren't hyperlinked. They aren't at the end of the chapter. They aren't at the end of the book. They don't exist.

Unbelievable.

If Amazon wants to continue to promote the Kindle, it has to insist on quality control, and that means hiring professionals to do the editing. Not whatever untended machine performed this abortion.

_________________

After posting the review above, I noticed an earlier review pointing out the same problem. In 2009! Apparently not a problem for Amazon. Well, I guess the joke's on me. Caveat emptor.
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on March 27, 2008
Bernstein's approach to the transcripts of these recordings is interesting in that he provides running commentary on specific points alongside the transcript. This enables points to be clarified and/or interpreted as the reader peruses the transcript. However, it can be a bit bothersome at times.

He debunks the idea that all of German nuclear research during the war years was for peaceful purposes, but sometimes presses too hard on this point.

The inclusion of some of the transcript in German is particularly useful for those interested in sorting the nuanced differences between the English translation and the German original.

Definitely a great reference work and should be read by anyone interested in the early years of nuclear energy.
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on April 1, 2010
Excellent work - historically and personally. I can recommend this book to all readers interested in the topic of History of Science in the 20th century. (And I know the facts, as I published 8 books on Otto Hahn, who was my grandfather).
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on July 31, 2012
I am not surprised that parts of this remind me of working for Lockheed at the end of the Cold War: A theoretical physicist with narrow experience and interest, who knows how to paint rosy pictures, managing an organization doing work between experiment and engineering. Communication only through channels where one is sure he can get credit for it. Almost no one thinking about long term objectives or underlying principles, except as required to present the case to funding agencies. Since the funding agencies don't understand the problem or the approach to the solution, there is little sense to the goals. It is also an example of provincialism that they assumed they were ahead, amusing except that it is the sort of provincialism that leads to war.

The Manhattan Project benefited from a feeling of the importance of the clearly defined goal, but it is not credible that it was as efficient as it is usually painted. The main difference was that in 1942 we realized that we could afford it and the Germans realized that they couldn't, but should keep some effort going in case that situation changed.

The author's criticisms of Heisenberg's bomb physics don't always seem to be justified, but it is clear that, aside from pitches to funding agencies, they had not worked on a bomb since the ordinance office stopped funding them in 1941 or 1942. In general the comments in the margin are very good.
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on January 16, 2014
Very absorbing account of the taped (bugged) conservations of German scientists held in detention in the U.K. at the end of the war. Interesting discussions of the making of a reactor and the bomb with much insight into the mindsets of the scientists, including Heisenberg, Gerlach, von Weiszacker, von Laue and Hahn. Not too technical for the lay reader.
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on February 20, 2013
The Farm Hall Transcripts in English translation (some parts include the original German) with commentary. One is better off reading the transcripts directly, available both in German transcribed from the secret recordings of conversations (best choice) and in English translation. Heisenberg wrote directly about his ideas in 'Der Teil und das Ganze' (translated into English and titled 'Physics and Beyond'). All of it makes for interesting reading, especially Power's 'Heisenberg's War'.
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