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Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man Paperback – March 10, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The development of the atomic bomb was the greatest scientific achievement (for good or ill) of World War II. Many of the histories of the Manhattan Project, such as Richard Rhodes's well-known The Making of the Atomic Bomb: The Discovery of Nuclear Energy, have focused on the scientists and their important work. But it was just as much an industrial and organizational triumph, and a tough manager was needed to ramrod this complex project through to completion. Groves (1896-1970) had gained his experience through years of projects that allowed him to evaluate construction companies and manufacturing processes. His skills included decisiveness and an ability to size people up, assign them achievable tasks, and push them as hard as necessary. Without his strong leadership and vision, it is doubtful that the bombs could have been used to end the war. In contrast to William Lawren's The General and the Bomb, which focuses strictly on the Manhattan Project, Norris's book has a lot of information about the general's formative earlier life. Norris (Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940) is an experienced nuclear analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and he uses his expertise to good effect. Suitable for the history collections of all libraries. Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn,
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Startlingly enough, the military engineer in charge of the Manhattan Project has never been the subject of a full-blown biography until now. Norris' exacting and complete research into Leslie Groves' life does not overwhelm the narrative, and his work will not only serve scholars and general readers equally well but also take its place among the handful of best books about the birth of the atomic age. Another engineer ran the Manhattan Project before Groves was brought in, against his wishes (he wanted a combat assignment). Within days of his appointment in September 1942, Groves was gobbling up real estate and building factories, but Norris argues that Groves did more than jump-start an already-existing program. Because of his intelligence and long experience in construction, he was able to anticipate technical crises; for example, a glitch in plutonium production was overcome because Groves ordered the reactors to be built larger than the scientists thought necessary. Norris finds that as a personality, Groves was uncomplicated, patriotic, and traditional; as an officer, brusque, determined, and decisive. The latter traits made him too many enemies, and he was eased out of the Corps of Engineers not long after the war. A critical contribution to the subject. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 722 pages
  • Publisher: Steerforth; Reprint edition (March 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586420674
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586420673
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,034,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on October 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As biographer Robert Norris himself concedes, there have been many accounts of the Manhattan Project since World War II, several biographies of Leslie Groves, and even Paul Newman's memorable depiction of Groves in the film "Fat Man and Little Boy." Norris hoped to achieve the academically definitive biography, and no one can accuse him of failing at that. He is thorough. In fact, there is unintended humor in the "racing" title: as late as page 214 the search for real estate for Hanford and Oak Ridge is just getting underway. Groves's bomb has a long fuse.
Leslie R. Groves entered West Point on the eve of World War I. When the United States entered the war, the Academy's curriculum was compressed into a two year matriculation in the belief that many new officers would be needed quickly on the European front. As timing would have it, neither Groves nor many of his fellow cadets saw action. What resulted, however, was a glut of peacetime officers, an undesirable situation for ambitious career officers like Groves. Eventually Groves's accomplishments would outrun his rank, a major political liability. In the end, however, Groves himself was his own worst enemy. Intelligent and self-motivated, Groves became an accomplished engineer at the Academy, though it would seem that as a cadet he acquired the skills without the polish. As an officer in the Corps of Engineers he was brusque and dogged, except with those who could advance his career. Superiors tolerated his rudeness and obesity because he could kick behinds and deliver the goods. In peacetime he might have been shuffled out; but as the Nazi shadow extended closer to home, a man of Groves's productivity would be annually disciplined for his interpersonal shortcomings and "punished" with greater responsibilities.
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Format: Hardcover
The US development of the atomic bomb during WW II obviously was a key event in the 20th century. This excellent book about a truly remarkable man, details that story in a fascinating way. The simple history of the bomb centers around brilliant physicists and the discovery of fission. Not to diminish those accomplishments, the story of the Manhattan Project and the creation of a practical military weapon is even more interesting. General Leslie Groves created and ruled an enormous organization (in excess of 200,000 people) that solved complex engineering problems, built plants from scratch, ran production, created an airforce, an intelligence agency, a PR department and in many ways a private state department, all of which worked in concert to accomplish the goal in an unbelievably short period of time (when you learn all that was required). The practical development of radar and atomic weaponry during WWII completely redefined the perceived value of science and engineering. The story of this early example of high-tech entreprenuership is worth reading in many dimensions, and hard to put down once you start.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This biography fills a significant gap in the historical record: behind the incredible scientific and engineering triumph of the Manhattan Project, there was a master administrator. Leslie Groves is that administrator, the take-charge guy who knew how to inspire, find competent people to whom he delegated tasks, cajole and bully his way into the historical achievement of the first working atomic bomb. In this bio, you get to know who he was, how he operated, and what he did. There is no doubt he was a great and talented, if somewhat unsung, man.
Nonetheless, Groves' life and methods are not exactly something that would inspire a lay reader about the epoch. There are far better books for that, such as Rhodes' Making of the Atomic Bomb, which is the most readable and best reported and researched of the whole shelf of books on the subject in my opinion. No, this is a book of value principally for specialists in scientific and military history and for atom-bomb buffs. There was info I needed in it and could only find there, so it was most useful for a scholarly purpose. But it was not a fun read about a rich time.
Afterall, when contrasted to great politicians or scientists or adventurers, there is a reason why very, very few bureaucrats find a narrative niche: they are simply not as interesting or as comprehensible. Norris even says as much, when he admits there were not many layers to Grove: he was a competent and arrogant man, who when given extraordinary authority during the war was capable of achieving extraordinary things. At the end of the war, he refused to change along with the army and instead retired to a corporate position and as a curmugeon who corrected in excruciating detail the innumerable accounts that kept appearing.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a fascinating but long, slow read. Whereas most books written about the development of the atomic bomb focus on the years of the development efforts (generally early 40s to the use in August 1945), this book starts with General Groves' family history to help understand where and how his abilities to organize and run a major development effort like the Manhattan Project were developed. It leaves you with the obvious conclusion that General Groves was indeed the right man at the right time to make the development of the bomb conclude much earlier than it likely would have under someone else; resulting in many additional deaths in the Pacific and potential invasion of Japan. Along the way I learned much more about Groves and the development efforts of the Manhattan Project than is generally presented in other books. His drive to excel that was instilled in him from his father carried him through his career in the Army Corps of Engineers. In striving to accomplish assigned goals, he did create enemies that somewhat blemished his later career and practically forced an early retirement from the military family he loved. Excellent book; I didn't rate 5 stars mainly because it was a slow-going read even though the information presented was quite fascinating.
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