- Hardcover: 576 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (October 8, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465021956
- ISBN-13: 978-0465021956
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race 1st Edition
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In this terrific book, Farmelo tells the story of the United Kingdom's nuclear program, which began with pioneering work in Cambridge before World War II and ultimately merged with the United States' Manhattan Project.”
[A] story as gripping as it is elegantly argued and precise.”
In this terrific book, Farmelo tells the story of the United Kingdom's nuclear program, which began with pioneering work in Cambridge before World War II and ultimately merged with the United States' Manhattan Project. The book is built around a compelling portrait of Churchill that demonstrates the variability of his judgment.... Farmelo demonstrates that although principles and evidence often shape the relationship between science and policy, personality and politics play just as large a role.”
Wall Street Journal
This book...shows a keen sense of the human comedy. Who were these people, and why did they behave the way they did?”
Telegraph, Best Books of 2014
A superb study of Churchill's little-known interest in atomic weapons claims Churchill was the first British prime minister to foresee the potential of the nuclear age.”
Science historian Farmelo ends each chapter with a cliffhanger that will keep readers paging through this thoroughly researched, detailed history of Britain's involvement with nuclear energy in the WWII era and beyond.... Farmelo's prose moves quickly with much action; he evokes a sense of place and time with details of daily life.... Highly recommended for those with an interest in weaponry, the WWII era, and British history.”
[A] nicely detailed and balanced record of the British ambivalence toward building an atom bomb in favor of the American effort.... A tremendously useful soup-to-nuts study of how Britain and the U.S. embraced a frightening atomic age.”
Farmelo presents a well-written and deeply researched account of Britain's engagement in atomic research.... Farmelo's study provides an excellent assessment of Churchill's role in the British effort and complements Richard Rhodes's classic The Making of the Atomic Bomb. A fine addition to the existing literature on the subject.”
Observer, UK, Best Science Book of the Year
Farmelo provides us with a vision of a great leader, Churchill, who hesitated fatally when Britain was given, by the US, the offer of an equal share in the development of the A-bomb.... Offers intriguing insights into the pursuit of science then and now.”
Few writers can make the mechanics of H-bomb production interesting: Farmelo can. Churchill's Bomb, equally as good as his award-winning biography of the physicist Paul Dirac (The Strangest Man), sheds light on a little-known aspect of Churchill's life and does so with flair and narrative verve.”
There is nothing like the fear of annihilation to focus the best minds on taking us to the next level of technical achievement. Certainly this was Winston Churchill's option. As biographer Graham Farmelo shows in Churchill's Bomb, Churchill managed to redeem his faltering performance as a minister in the first world war by elevating the atomic bomb' from a neologism created by H. G. Wells to an existential risk in one deft essay.”
In Churchill's Bomb, science historian Graham Farmelo reconstructs this intense, delicate, and near-Faustian story with wit, detail, and richness.... [A] fine read for those who want a well written and researched single volume on atomic affairs from a British point of view.”
[A] very fine book.... Farmelo's book illuminates the nexus between science, politics, war, and even literature better than anything I have read for some time. The issues it raises are both eternal and especially pressing now. It is not yet Book of the Year time but this has to be a contender.”
Gregg Easterbrook, Tuesday Morning Quarterback, ESPN.com
This important volume details the little-known story of how Churchill agreed to trust England's fission research to FDR, even knowing The Bomb would make the United States king of the postwar world.”
Literary Review, UK
Graham Farmelo's critique of Churchill is the central theme of a book that unfolds the whole story of the Anglo-American origins of the atom bomb. Superbly written, with a [Frederick] Lindemann-like flair for the translation of scientific data into layman's terms, it is a narrative driven by personalities rather than institutions and studded with memorable cameos of the scientists, politicians and bureaucrats involved.”
Roger Highfield, Science Museum executive, Daily Telegraph columnist, and bestselling science writer
A riveting, powerful, and timely reminder that high politics is anything but rational. Graham Farmelo vividly reveals how Winston Churchill learned about atomic physics in the 1920s, warned about the imminence of nuclear weapons in the 30s, and yet, paradoxically, squandered Britain's lead in the field during the Second World War.”
Andrew Brown, author of Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience
"Churchill's curiosity about science is perhaps the least studied aspect of his character. Graham Farmelo remedies that deficit in masterful style, beginning with Churchill's admiration for H G Wells and ending with a poignant portrait of the elderly statesman brooding over the prospect of nuclear Armageddon."
Sir Michael Berry, University of Bristol
What a brilliant and compelling book! Graham Farmelo sensitively and eloquently deconstructs the twists and turns of Winston Churchill's involvement with nuclear weapons over nearly half a century, setting this unfamiliar tale in the context of the turbulent times. At its heart are the ambiguities of the World War II relationship between a scientifically innovative but economically weakened Britain and the inexhaustibly energetic USA with unlimited resources.”
The Daily Beast
This is a complex and engrossing history with obvious geopolitical import, but what's most interesting is the human drama involving Churchill, FDR, and the constellation of scientific egos circling around them. Farmelo also wonderfully draws out Churchill's surprising futurism, bound up with a strain of fatalism.”
"Graham Farmelo's very fine book ... illuminates the nexus between science, politics, war, and even literature better than anything I have read for some time. The issues it raises are both eternal and especially pressing now. It is not yet Book of the Year time but this has to be a contender."
[A] dazzling book.... Farmelo, prize-winning biographer of the physicist Paul Dirac, recounts this important story with skill and erudition.”
Winnipeg Free Press
[A] nuanced and engaging study of nuclear politics.... [A]n impressive effort, depicting British nuclear policy through a focus on Churchill and his scientists.”
Intriguing....Churchill's Bomb is a story of abject failure by the man widely considered to be the greatest Briton ever to have lived.... [I]ts brilliance lies in the way the story is told, for it is a tale not just of physics or politics but also, more importantly, of people.”
The author, a physicist, ranges across Winston Churchill's long career.... Farmelo is especially good on the Second World War years, revealing much about the Anglo-American relationship that has been guarded or unclear.... Colourful.”
America in WWII
Although Farmelo devotes a respectable number of words to explaining concepts related to nuclear science, his background material is well-written, and there's just enough to set the scene. He builds the framework of his argument around the intriguing and complex relationships of the players and how could he go wrong when the central player is Winston Churchill?”
On the eve of World War II, British scientists were well ahead of the United States in the basic research to make a nuclear weapon possible. How the United States wrested that leadership away from Great Britain is the topic of Graham Farmelo's account of a little-known aspect of the war.... [T]his is an interesting story.”
Times Higher Education
Splendid and original.... Churchill's Bomb is at once a tribute to Churchill's foresight in seeing clearly in the inter-war period both the potential and the dangers of a form of energy that few believed would ever be harnessed, and a criticism of him for having allowed leadership in nuclear technology for industrial and military purposes to pass to the US.... In interweaving the political and the scientific, Farmelo succeeds in making the latter beautifully clear even to readers with scant background in the subject. His book also shows that the quarrels between scientists can be just as fierce as those between politicians.”
The Observer (UK)
[An] absorbing account of 20th century atomic politics.... Farmelo's account of Churchill's atomic dreams perfectly captures the essence of the man and of the science of the day.”
The Times (UK)
Churchill's Bomb tells an even more dramatic story [than Farmelo told in The Strangest Man], and tells it brilliantly.... There are many books about the creation of nuclear weapons and even more about Churchill, but Farmelo's is the first that explains the latter's role in the former.... Farmelo ingeniously interweaves the narratives of the nuclear scientists, many of them Jewish refugees from Germany, with that of Churchill in war and peace. As the Americans enter the picture the story becomes fiendishly complicated, but the author never loses the thread.”
The London Review of Books
Compelling.... The value of Farmelo's book is in its meticulous attention to the contingencies, accidents, uncertainties, inconsistencies and idiosyncratic personalities in the story of how Britain didn't get the Bomb during the war and how it did get it afterwards. It could all have turned out differently but it didn't.”
The Sunday Times
An excellent book.... Farmelo is a splendid word-portraitist, and his book charts the odysseys, geographical as well as scientific, of the men who played a key role in developing the bomb.... Authoritative and superbly readable.”
Farmelo's writing is lyrical and is chock-full of personality.”
The New York Times Book Review
[Farmelo] tells this tale fluently.... Churchill's Bomb illuminates significant flaws in Churchill's personality, policies and leadership.”
Graham Farmelo presents us with a story and an analysis which are so fresh and compelling that we might feel we have come to both subjects [Churchill and the nuclear bomb] for the first time.... [S]crupulously researched and superbly written.... Farmelo's style keeps us in suspense, and his book really is a page-turner. It is also a compendium of mini-biographies of all the significant players in this gargantuan story, each deftly and compassionately told, with touches of apt simile, wit and poignancy.... Churchill's Bomb is a powerful and moving contribution to literature about the 20th century and to biographical and historical writing.”
[Churchill's Bomb] scores some powerful points."
New York Review of Books
This book is the story of a love triangle. The three characters are Winston Churchill the statesman, H.G. Wells the writer, and Frederick Lindemann the scientist.... Graham Farmelo's main subject is the personal rivalry surrounding the British nuclear weapons project, in which Winston Churchill played a leading part.”
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Top Customer Reviews
The background of Churchill's life long connection to H.G. Wells was fascinating. But even more surprising was Churchill's interest in, and understanding of nuclear research in the 1930's. However it raised the larger question of why, if Churchill truly understood the basics a decade before any other political leader, he was so slow on the uptake once the MAUD report laid out that building an atomic weapon was looking more like a massive industrial effort not a speculative research project. It was the dissemination of the MAUD report in the U.S. by a British scientist that convinced the country by the end of 1941 to fund serious nuclear research and pilot plant production.
My short take away from this book is that the British understood the theory, but didn't have the organizational skill, industrial capacity or leadership to make a big bet during wartime. (Ironically these same issues would see the British squander their lead in developing a commercial computer industry from their lead in Bletchley Park with the Colossus.) Lacking an understanding of what the ownership of a nuclear monopoly would mean, Churchill dealt away the early lead Britain had. By late 1942, when the British woke up to what was happening in the U.S. the Manhattan project had already become a U.S. Army military weapons system project and no British assistance or cooperative effort was wanted.
The book also helped me understand the role of Churchill's scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann. In most military histories Lindermann often appears as a footnote with a bit of disguised disdain, but with no real reasons given. While not quite a Lindermann biography the book helped me appreciate his outsized influence on Churchill's thinking about weapons systems.
(As an aside, somewhere, someone must have done a study comparing the weapon systems bets each side in WW II made; the Germans on V1, V2, battleships/cruisers versus aircraft carriers, U.S. bets on aircraft carriers, atomic bomb, long range bombers, Britain on fighters and medium range bombers, the Soviets betting on T-34 tanks Il-2 ground attack aircraft, multiple rocket launchers, and etc. It would be interesting to see which were the right/wrong bets.)
While I understand the authors intent of telling the arc of Churchill's life and the bomb, the post WW2 discussion seemed forced, thin and stretched the book out longer than necessary.
Finally, the book put in context the contributions and role of British scientists in the Manhattan project: William Penny, Otto Frisch,Rudolf Peierls, Geoffrey Taylor, Marcus Oliphant, Patrick Blackett, James Chadwick, Philip Moon and John Cockcroft. I had heard of these names in isolation but never quite understood their relationship to each other and their prewar research.
Just as a note, early on I almost put the book down a bit put off by the breezy writing and heavy use of English colloquial terms. (At times I had to refer to the web to translate them.) I'm glad I stuck to it. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in the British contribution to WWII nuclear weapons program.
What, really is the subject matter here? An astonishingly sentimental, sometimes coy and even at times cartoonish Churchill is depicted while the other protagonist, the "Bomb", spends much of its time onstage hidden with its feet jutting out from beneath the parlour room curtains. It is an alternate history, as another reviewer sagely correctly pointed out, but almost by accident.
Even in his masterly biography of Dirac, Farmelo becomes skittish as he delves uncertainly into the technical aspects of the lives of the highly technical men and women he describes. Given that Dirac was as close to an automaton as a human can possibly get and still possess a pulse, Farmelo was lucky not to have his effort scuppered by his gingerly approach to the physics involved.
In "Churchill's Bomb", even the all-important and easily accessible engineering aspects of the development of the atomic bomb are gauzy and evasive. Seriously bloated and probably historically unwarranted depictions of Lindemann, Chadwick, Oliphant et al. loom unnecessarily large and seem to be thrust to the forefront as a way to distract the reader from the lack of a substantial material spine to the historical account.
Both Churchill and the events leading up to the creation and deployment of the atomic bomb have been chronicled almost to the point of excess. Fusing the two subjects rather ham-fistedly into a single account hobbles both legends.
The Bomb appears and reappears intermittently, like an extra in a movie, between pages upon pages of amusing but inconsequential trivia centering on personal and private rivalries that don't quite merit such in-depth inspection.
Professors X and Y spew vitriol, the Prime Minister harrumphs, America disdains - and then, suddenly, a single sentence appears to inform Dr. Penney has exploded Britain's first H-bomb!
Farmelo struggles at his game with the occasional stretch at the best bon mots, and illuminates his subjects over-brightly with the sheen of their own shortcomings. It is distressing to see how Churchill and others are inadvertently pilloried by cherry picking their personal shortcomings in an attempt to add dimension to their characters as presented.
Of course, the book is the history of a failure, but a single failure of limited consequences and, just because Britain was denied its opportunity to independently build a bomb, it is historically inaccurate to use this as a metaphor for both the decline of Churchill and the British Empire.
It's a bit of a stumble, and not at all epic.
It's a mistake to dismiss Farmelo, and I keenly urge the discouraged reader to turn instead to the author's far better effort, "The Strangest Man".
To fund the bomb on a timely basis was well beyond their means. That the US might have taken advantage of them . . . Well even friends do that from time to time.
Was Churchill well advised, perhaps not. But for an excellent overview of this strengths and weaknesses read: "Winston's War" - Max Hastings. He was a great man, but not a perfect man. Without Churchill England would not have survived but some of his decisions past "Their Finest Hour" look less than wise in retrospect.
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Dear Dr. Farmelo, Visiting Academic, Churchill College, Cambridge; re.Read more