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Before The Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima Hardcover – April 1, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nuclear weapons have been an immutable aspect of the world for the past 60 years. The story of how they came to be, and the race between the Allied and Axis nations to be the first to harness the destructive power of the atom, is wonderfully told by British historian Preston (A First Rate Tragedy; Lusitania; etc.). She weaves together history, physics, politics and military strategies to convey both the monumental scientific achievement the bomb represented and, at the same time, the ethical and humanitarian implications of creating such a wild power. Preston is an impeccable researcher with a gift for choosing small details that illuminate and humanize the bomb's world-changing effects. She quotes a doctor in Hiroshima saying the mass of burned flesh around him smelled like "dried squid when it is grilled--the squid we like so much to eat"; elsewhere, Preston relates that the potential explosive effect of a chain-reaction atomic bomb was first calculated on the back of a napkin. This is a story with a reservoir of events heroic and horrible and a fabulous cast of characters that includes scientists Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller and Hans Bethe, and world leaders Roosevelt, Churchill, Truman, Stalin, Emperor Hirohito and Hitler. Preston presents each with rare insight and expertise. But her rarer achievement is to capture not only the work of making the bomb with its myriad ramifications for humankind, but also the ineffably human qualities--curiosity, ambition, fear, patriotism--that animated the participants in the great drama. 50 b&w illus.
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Readers won’t mind that this book offers nothing new about a subject that has been thoroughly examined. Preston’s what-if scenarios are as fascinating as her portraits of the players, from Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer to FDR, Emperor Hirohito, and Hitler. Preston’s focus on the lesser-known personalities, including physicist Werner Heisenberg, chemist Ida Noddack, and Lise Meitner (who explained nuclear fission for the first time), distinguishes Before the Fallout from other accounts of the creation of the nuclear bomb. Preston, author of The Boxer Rebellion and Lusitania, also describes the underlying science well, rarely failing to connect it to its social implications. "In this 60th-anniversary year, when new books about the bomb are as ubiquitous as self-help tomes," writes the San Francisco Chronicle, "Preston’s achievement is a rare one."

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1st edition (April 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714455
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714459
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,232,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Matlock on May 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In 1895, I've heard, the director of the patent office resigned saying that there was nothing new to invent.

Also in 1895 Rontgen discovered X-Rays.

In 1905 a young man no one had heard of published three articles in one issue of the most promient journal of Physics. The first would have gained him an honorable mention in the chemistry texts of today. The second would get him a Nobel prize, and become the foundation of what we now know of as television. The third article was the theory of relativity.

Forty years later Paul Tibbets, piloting the 'Enola Gay' dropped the 'Little Boy' atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

This book is the story of those fifty years. It's a fascinating story of people with genius level minds making new breakthroughs in physics nearly every year. It is also a story of people, of Lise Meitner making a magnificant discovery but having it ignored because she was female.

Those fifty years transformed the world of physics from a backwater of levers and pulleys into the queen of all the sciences.
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Format: Hardcover
Physicists made phenomenal progress in understanding the workings of the atom in the first half of the twentieth century from the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895 through the unlocking of awesome power demonstrated in the New Mexico desert in 1945. Diana Preston's history gives us some understanding of the events and people who contributed to the leap in scientific understanding. She concentrates on individuals who achieved so much including Rutherford, the Curies, Bohr, Chadwick, and Fermi. She traces the evolution of nuclear physics in different parts of the world from Japan, England, Germany, France, and America. Of particular historical interest is how the efforts initiated by Leo Szilard eventually led to the successful Manhattan project as opposed to the failure of any nuclear program in the Axis countries in spite of having very capable scientists such as Heisenberg and Nishina.

Preston is adept at describing the technical issues so that even a casual reader can understand how the different experiments and theories contributed to advances. And she is adept at describing personality issues: ". . . Groves had also alienated Ernest Lawrence . . . he warned the Nobel prize winner that he had better do a good job since his reputation depended on it. Lawrence replied, "My reputation is already made. It is yours that depends on the outcome of the Manhattan project." "

The artwork by van der Goes, The Fall, hints at the origin of the title and is used to create an intriguing dust jacket for the hardcover edition.

"Before the Fallout" is well worth reading for anyone interested in the question of how we went from a world of gun powder and swords to nuclear weapons in a mere half-century.
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Format: Hardcover
Diana Preston combines the exciting story of the individuals responsible for the scientific discoveries of Atomic Energy with the race for the Atomic Bomb. She traces the fifty year journey of discoveries which culminated in Hiroshima's destruction. The book is one of biography, science (well told and easy to understand), and the history of this unique quest for knowledge. The book is a broad overview of the subject which along the way presents material that surely could be expanded into many different books and even a few movies. For example the story of the two attempts to destroy the Nazi's Norwegian source of Heavy Water reads like the film "The Guns of Navarone".

I have had the pleasure to meet Diana Preston and hear her speak at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair. She is a regular attendee. I have read all but her first book and have felt her "Lusitania" her greatest achievement but this, her newest, is just as wonderful.

The book is well organized and has many characters that you find easy to follow via each mini biography throughout the narrative. The book ends with really two epilogues. (I do like a good epilog too.) The first tells what happened to each participant after WWII and the last is a "what if" analysis this is most interesting as it puts many of the events in the book into a broad context and points out the individual difference each scientist made. I just loved Preston's comment at the end of the book... "History....even the history of science... is inherently about people, how they thought, what they did with their thoughts, and how they interacted with the individuals immediately around them and then with society and the greater world order. All involved in this story....regardless of race, sex. creed, age, or intellectual ability...
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Format: Paperback
I stumbled upon this book one day when walking through the library to pick up a book I turned down the wrong aisle and the title caught my eye. I read the prologue and was intrigued enough to check it out. I am glad I did.

I enjoy reading biographies, books on science, history, WWII, and many other subjects but this book hit those four mentioned at the same time. The book was crafted in such a way to keep the pace flowing and at times seem pressing as if I didn’t know what would happen by the end of the book even though we all know how things ended at Hiroshima. For the scientists involved Preston almost presents mini-biographies for them as she explains their scientific work and its contribution to the progression of nuclear weapons. She also succeeds at putting a human face on many of the scientists in this book. She presents the material and scientists in such a light that you can almost feel the weight of their decisions when trying to decide whether to build a bomb or not.

She presents many stories and moral dilemmas through the book that will make you question your own thoughts on how the use of the atomic bombs were handled. She also presents the “what-if” scenarios that show how close the history of the atom bomb came to being completely different on many different occasions.

After reading this book I’m still not sure how I feel about the dropping of the atom bombs but I do know that I now know much more than before.
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