Most helpful positive review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2011
This well written book is a thoughtful examination of the experience of German physicists during the Third Reich and is essentially a series of essays on the relationship between German science and the Nazi regime. There is strong topical integration of the essays and some overlap in content, though not to the point of being pointlessly repetitious.
Walker opens with a discussion of the career of Johannes Stark, the prominent experimental physicist who was a fervent Nazi and leader of the "German Physics" movement that regarded relativity and quantum theory as mistakes. Despite his professional prominence and early commitment to the Nazi movement, Stark and his supporters did not fare as well as expected under the Third Reich. His efforts to become the Fuhrer of German physics fell afoul of both professional resistance and vicious bureaucratic politics of the polycratic Nazi state. Over time, the Nazi leadership came to prefer less overtly Nazi physicists like Heisenberg, whose work promised useful technology.
Walker discusses Heisenberg's involvement with Nazis at length, showing his considerable involvement with the regime, including the PR tours he made in occupied Europe to bolster Nazi prestige. In a complementary discussion, Walker describes the Aryanization and subordination of the prominent Prussian Academy of Sciences to the Nazi state. Overall, this is an interesting discussion of what Walker describes as scientists as "fellow travelers." While not themselves Nazis, many, many prominent scientists were co-opted by the regime and served it faithfully. This occurred partly as a result of professional ambition and partly as a result of misdirected patriotism, though many of these individuals, like Heisenberg, were reactionary and nationalistic in their personal politics.
Walker concludes with an interesting discussion of the German nuclear project, Heiserberg's role, and the myths that grew up around the project after the war. Summarizing some of his prior work, he emphasizes that the German leadership elected, for several reasons, not to commit large resources to nuclear weapons development. The post-war actions of Heisenberg and other German physicists in obfuscating their roles during the war is discussed very well.