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Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691128184
ISBN-10: 0691128189
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on evidence that the atomic bomb was regarded as a weapon like any other before its first use, Princeton University's Gordin offers a concise and provocative reinterpretation of the beginning of the nuclear age. For the American military commanders in charge of the bomb, the main consideration was whether it would destroy enemy personnel and infrastructure as part of a "shock strategy" for winning Japan's unconditional surrender. Launching the nuclear missions from Tinian Island, the B-29 airplane base, further normalized the bomb's use within the matrix of Pacific island combat. Consideration of such special characteristics as radiation was muted until after the Japanese capitulation—indeed, discussions of a "Third Shot," with Tokyo the probable target, continued until the successful American occupation began in September 1945. The initially overwhelming support of the American public for the nuclear strikes reflected a belief that the war might have lasted more than another year. Even in that context, half the population opposed using gas in an attack—another indication, according to Gordin, that the atom bomb's special status was a postwar development. His worthy study concludes that the bomb's uniqueness has inappropriately encouraged Japan's reluctance to recognize and evaluate its war responsibility, and points toward the importance of examining nuclear weapons outside the familiar context of a nuclear standoff. (Feb.)
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Review

"Michael D. Gordin's worthy study concludes that the bomb's uniqueness has inappropriately encouraged Japan's reluctance to recognize and evaluate its war responsibility, and points toward the importance of examining nuclear weapons outside the familiar context of a nuclear standoff."--Publishers Weekly

"Gordin has done an excellent job in surveying the diverse views on what happened during those momentous five days in August 1945."--John Krige, Science

"In this brief but impressive work, Gordin takes a fresh, unique look at a much-studied topic. Although he touches on the development of the atomic bomb, his main concern is how scientists, politicians, and military planners from the bomb's inception to the present have viewed this new weapon."--J.L. Gall, Choice

"In addition to lucid and careful summaries of the issues, a particular virtue of this book is the substantial and well-chosen collection of documents from American and Japanese sources."--Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs

"Five Days in August is brief and accessible, effectively communicating even technical and scientific concepts, and would be of use to the history or international relations classroom. This reevaluation of 'nuclearism' is a timely study, worthy of consideration and discussion."--Stephanie L. Trombley, Historian

"This author has written a stimulating book that brims with insights and is based on an impressive amount of research. . . . Gordin has written a challenging book that ranges far beyond the five days mentioned in his title."--Robert James Maddox, The Historian

"This short book grips the general reader and leads the curious on to longer and more scholarly writings."--Edwin R. McCullough, European Legacy

"Refreshingly nonpolemical, Five Days in August is a must read for those interested in atomic history, the final stages of World War II, and the future of nuclear weapons."--William J. Astore, Proceedings
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691128189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691128184
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,461,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 3, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I doubt there are many topics more debated in American - and world - history than the decision to drop the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WW2. In his book, "Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War", author Michael Gordin gives a masterful account of this chapter in our history. I live in Santa Fe and Los Alamos is right up the hill. There's a lot of interest out here on the Bomb and the mechanics of building it and the politics of dropping it. Goldin's book is low key, very well written, which focuses on Tinian Island, as well as the idea that the bomb was initially just one component in an arsenal, to end the war before the proposed Nov 1 invasion of the Home Islands, "Operation Downfall".

Gordin fully explores the notion of the development and dropping of the bombs as yet another weapon in our arsenal to force the Japanese into an "unconditional surrender." The US had done intensive firebombing of the cities of Japan, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. And even after the atomic bombs were dropped, the firebombings continued. (Truman had decreed no more atomic bombs dropped on August 10, 1945, but the fire bombs were still used.) The Japanese government finally surrendered on August 15. The Americans knew no more bombs would be dropped but the Japanese did not. And the truth is that there was a "Third Shot" - another "Fat Man" - being put together in case more bombs were needed.

In discussing the "Third Shot", Michael Gordin takes the reader to Tinian Island, a huge air base for B29s in the Mariana Islands. The island had been seized by the Americans from the Japanese, and the location was perfect in launching B-29 Superfortress bombers to sites in Japan.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a quick and interesting read. The central question explored is: From their onset, were atomic bombs viewed a qualitatively distinct "special" from other weapons coming out of the Second World War, or was this attitude subsequently, though quickly, developed? The author suggests by thorough analysis the latter. He reasons that this was driven by the public's fear of these weapons once they learned of them, and also by the political usefulness of the idea in the United States, Japan and the Soviet Union.

His subtle but persistent probing on this and related questions suggests how issues of current interest may be handled by political, scientific and public groups. For example, do weapons of mass destruction actually intensify conventional war because at least they are not nuclear? And, how are technological revolutions and/or threats managed, particularly under urgent conditions?

With 144 pages of probing and logically tight writing and an additional 48 pages of references, it is feels a scholarly publication intended to generate serious discussion.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This books explains how the atomic bomb acquired its mythical status in a few days in August 1945. This status was not justified by the destructive power of the then-produced bombs. Rather, it came from visions of apocalypse which would only become realistic many years later, reinforced by American propaganda and above all the reaction of the Japanese government, which needed a good excuse for surrendering. The author's main thesis is that it is the Japanese surrender which made the atomic bomb special, rather than the special power of the bomb making Japan surrender.

The book is however rather brief and the argument feels somewhat incomplete although not in my opinion biased as the author does not ignore the facts which do not go his way. It is anyway very healthy to critically think on the atomic bomb's mythology, which has itself been playing an important role in history. For instance, the author argues that it is more this mythology than the actual strength of America's atomic arsenal which helped prevent a Soviet invasion of Western Europe in the late 1940s. Moreover, this book brings a welcome focus on the issue of effectively using the bomb, which is of course as important as being able to procuce it. And it is interesting to see how irrelevant such later questions as the necessity of the dropping of a second atomic bomb and the dangers from radiations were to the men of August 1945.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book took what I thought I knew and adds extensive additional information that really make me think. Very much worth a read.
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