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Customer Review

59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Historical Account Of Etiology of First Atomic Bomb!, January 8, 2004
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)
One of the most admirable qualities of this truly marvelous work is its ability to paint the story of the creation of the first atomic weapon on the broadest possible canvas, reaching back into the bowels of history to trace, with the fidelity of a seismographic needle, the rise of both the specific intellectuals as well as the critical scientific mass to make the work not only conceivable, but possible. This is indeed a work that one reads repeatedly, for there is so much to digest within the pages of this masterwork as to defy any easy such description. So both the cast of involved personalities is long and incredibly interesting to witness as the author develops it, but then again, so is his description of the rise of theoretical physics through the work of Albert Einstein and his colleagues within the mostly European academic orbit in the first third of the twentieth century. In that sense, it is not strictly speaking, merely a detailed exposition dealing with what happened in New Mexico under incredibly secret circumstances during World War Two, as the Manhattan Project, even though it eventually gravitates toward being exactly that.
Instead, the book opens as an exploration into the minds of some brilliantly eccentric professors and intellectuals struggling within theoretical physics on the very cutting edge of the unknown, and then stretching it in quite unsuspected and revolutionary ways. And as the critical mass of theoretical knowledge began to cluster within the fairly small community of like-minded souls, the scene changes based on world politics and the rise of fascism. It is an interesting curiosity that had Hitler been less vitriolic in his condemnation of Jews, he might have forestalled the emigration of critical players in this unfolding melodrama, and so might have altered his own destiny and that of his most important ally, Japan. For just as the kluge of intellectuals conceded that such a weapon was indeed theoretically possible and feasible, many of them began to flee to more hospitable environs, including both the USA and Britain. Without their help, it is questionable as to whether the Manhattan Project could have ever succeeded.
The author is also quite convincing in his take concerning the long-rumored notion that the Nazis were also rushing toward development of the bomb, which Rhodes believes to be unsubstantiated by the available evidence. In fact, he argues exactly the opposite, that the Nazis were neither very interested in the development of such a weapon, and did not enjoy sufficient access to the kinds of materials they would have needed to mount a serious developmental nuclear program. Yet the majority of the book focuses memorably on the events transpiring in and around Los Alamos. The program to develop a useable atomic bomb was so massive and so secret that it is hard to imagine its scope at the time. Rhodes' prose admirably supports his sometimes almost confessional style, and he writes well enough to interest us in the most prosaic description even as he is describing events and people who literally transformed the world. This book has an incredible panorama to its rather ambitious scope, which includes biographical, scientific, sociological, political, and economic elements to it. It is indeed a classic, and deserves its status as one of the best-written accounts of the events of World War Two yet published. Enjoy!
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Location: Temple, New Hampshire United States

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