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Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly Paperback – November 23, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The world waited anxiously for the other shoe to drop, according to this history of the fraught period between America's atomic bombing of Japan and the Soviet Union's 1949 test of its first nuclear device. Princeton historian of science Gordin (Five Days in August) treats the era as a study in the pitfalls of incomplete information. American officials tried to keep nuclear technology secret (but not too secret: they fretted that not publishing crucial data would tell the Soviets what to look for) and conjectured endlessly about when Russia would get the bomb. Meanwhile, the Soviets, working from espionage and revealing American public sources, wondered whether their information on bomb making was trustworthy and struggled to overcome huge gaps in their knowledge. When American radiological monitors detected a Soviet nuclear blast in 1949, American officials worried about the geopolitical fallout from revealing their knowledge of the Russian success, which Stalin kept secret. Gordin's suggestion that the mania for information control furthered an arms race that might have been avoided seems dubious, but his account of the epistemological hall of mirrors that was the early cold war is fluent. 7 b&w illus. (Oct. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Gordin has crafted a quite wonderful book . . . [It] greatly expands what we should know about the contest for nuclear supremacy in the early Cold War. Heartily recommended.” ―Ed Goedeken, Library Journal

“More than a tale of scientific ingenuity, [Red Cloud at Dawn] probes the human motives of those involved in a high-stakes drama . . . A perceptive study, rich with implications for a twenty-first-century world still fraught with nuclear tensions.” ―Bryce Christensen, Booklist

“Michael Gordin brings vividly to life the end of the American atomic monopoly. By focusing on what each side knew--and did not know--about the other, he sheds new and original light on the origins of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race. This is a stylish book, with important implications for how we think about nuclear weapons past and present.” ―David Holloway, author of Stalin and the Bomb

“Nothing about the early cold war can be understood without grasping the terrifying first few years of nuclear weapons. Everything was in play: who would have them, who would control them, would they be used to enforce a pax Americana. Spies, diplomats, treaties, and detonations--nothing gripped decision makers as much as the atomic arsenal, from screaming headlines to the silent intelligence analyses on both sides of the divide. In Red Cloud at Dawn, Michael Gordin zeros in on the crucial years from Hiroshima to the first flash of ‘Joe 1' in 1949, the first Russian bomb and the ninth nuclear explosion. Using a spectacular variety of sources from Soviet and American sources, Gordin gives us a book that must be read to understand how we came to the sprawling nuclear proliferation in which we now live.” ―Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University

“Beginning with Truman's revelation to Stalin that the United States had an unusually powerful weapon, Michael Gordin tells the story of the Soviet A-bomb and the origins of the Cold War arms race. The ‘dialectical dance' of the superpowers entailed a deadly embrace that cost millions but miraculously avoided nuclear holocaust. This is a story of intelligence in both senses of the word--of spies and scientists, of information rather than simply fissionable material and devices. The red mushroom cloud rose on August 29, 1949, and, as Gordin's compelling narrative shows, the fallout, in its many senses, remains with us today.” ―Ronald Suny, Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History, University of Michigan


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (November 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312655428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312655426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,995,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Gordin is professor of history at Princeton University, where he specializes in the history of the modern physical sciences and Russian history.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on October 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
August 29,1949 would have been another day in the history of mankind, had it not been the day when the American monopoly over the atom bomb had come to an end.On that day,the first Soviet bomb, called "First Lightning" exploded in the deserts of Kazakhstan.This event was to lead to nuclear proliferation beyond the two supepowers.
The book starts with the Potsdam Conference, where Truman had revealed to the Russian dictator Stalin that the USA were in the possession of a devastating weapon.Stalin remained calm and it was at this point where speculation started as to the reasons of why Stalin has reacted(or did not react)the way he had.One thing was clear:the Russians knew berofehand about the American atom project,called "Manhattan".They obtained this information from so many spies who were responsible for transmitting this news to them.These spies were not necessarily employed by the GRU or the NKGB bosses.There were many scientists, like Klaus Fuchs or Alan Nunn May who were working for comrade Stalin because they shared his ideological ideas.The extent of espionage about the "Manhattan Project" for the development of the first Soviet nuclear bomb became known after the Russian archives holding relevant materials
opened their gates to the public and scholars alike.One of Moscow spymasters was Pavel Sudoplatov-the man who was also responsible for dispatching the man who would assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.Sudoplatov claimed that Beria summoned him in February 1944 to head a new department (dubbed "S") to deal with atomic espionage.This department was to integrate the information which the NKGB and the GRU got from their various sources.The name of the whole espionage operation was "Enormoz",showing the extent of suh a mammoth enterprise.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. Frost on July 16, 2013
Format: Paperback
As a former USAF intelligence analyst (who was stationed in the Pacific during the last of the French atomic bomb tests) I really wanted to both like this book and learn a lot from it. I was sadly disappointed. While this book is a very pleasant read, reading easily and quickly, and with very nice type size, the author has a clear left-wing bent, blaming the world's ills in the nuclear area on America. I knew I was in for an odd read when the author had rather pleasant words for Beria (e.g., pgs. 137-139), Stalin's secret police chief and the person responsible for the Soviet bomb program.

What Gordin gets horribly wrong is the fact that the Soviets had a simultaneous twin track regarding nuclear weapons. He focuses on the bomb, but misses the delivery system, the bomber. I strongly recommend that anyone who reads this book also studies Yefim Gordon & Vladimir Rigmant's great work, Tupolev Tu-4: Soviet Superfortress (Midland Publishing, 2002). G&R's work details how the Soviets initiated a massive reverse-engineering program to quickly turn four interned B-29s, captured in July-Aug-Nov 1944. Amazingly, the USA never asked for them back! By May 1945 the Soviets were proposing to build copies and the orders from on high were issued on June 6, 1945, over 5 weeks before the first US test explosion (Trinity). As Gordin makes clear, Stalin's huge espionage apparatus was already well aware of our bomb from a rather early stage. But as G&R point out, this same apparatus had failed to find out about the B-29 program until getting their first inklings in 1943. Once they learned more, they desperately wanted B-29s.

Gordin only mentions the Tu-4 on p. 257 and all he has to say is that our intelligence in 1948 believed the Soviets had about 200.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schranck on December 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
That's the day when the Cold War heated up; it was the day when the Soviet Union exploded their first fission bomb, the US lost its monopoly and the world becomes much more dangerous. Much of what is presented in this enlightening, fact filled book will be the ramifications of that event but the book begins at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 when President Truman tells Stalin of the new weapon the US has. Truman, over confident in the US monopoly in nuclear technology, believed Stalin was ignorant of the Manhattan Project or of the capabilities of nuclear weapons when in reality the Soviet Union knew all about the Manhattan Project and had already started their own program. That over confidence will cause the US to make some poor decisions in the coming years.

Though spending some time describing the Soviet's nuclear program, the author doesn't spend any appreciable time describing the Manhattan Project but delves into the political and intelligence aspects of these two super powers escalating the Arms Race into the 1950s and beyond.
During the Yeltsin era, Soviet classified documents were opened to the public and using this material and other sources the author has updated the Soviet position of what they knew and when they knew it as well as what they did and why they did it. Much coverage is given to the espionage programs of both countries in determining the developments of the other. To complete the story, Mr Gordin describes the actions the US took to block, neutralize and prevent Soviet dominance in the nuclear arms race as well as its standing in the world as our world was becoming polarized. He also describes the political environment Washington was morphing into. Its a fascinating but frightening story that is still shaping the world today.
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