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The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition Paperback – June 12, 2012
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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"The comprehensive history of the bomb--and also a work of literature." –Tracy Kidder
"A stirring intellectual adventure, and a clear, fast-paced and indispensable history of events on which our future depends."–Carl Sagan
"The best, the richest, and the deepest description of the development of physics in the first half of this century that I have yet read, and it is certainly the most enjoyable."–Isaac Asimov
"A monumental and enthralling history [...] Alive and vibrant in the book are all the scientists...and each human being stands vividly revealed as a man of science, of conscience, of doubts or of hubris."–San Francisco Chronicle
"A great book. Mr. Rhodes has done a beautiful job, and I don't see how anyone can ever top it."–Luis W. Alvarez, Nobel Laureate for Physics, 1968
"... what I read already impressed me with the author's knowledge of much of the history of the science which led to the development of nuclear energy and nuclear bombs and of the personalities which contributed in the U.S. to the development of these. I was particularly impressed by his realization of the importance of Leo Szilard's contributions which are almost always underestimated but which he fully realizes and perhaps even overestimates. I hope the book will find a wide readership."–Eugene P. Wigner, Nobel Laureate for Physics, 1963
"I found The Making of the Atomic Bomb well written, interesting and one of the best in the great family of books on the subject. It is fascinating as a novel, and I have learned from it many things I did not know. Mr. Rhodes has done his homework conscientiously and intelligently"–Emilio Segrè, Nobel Laureate for Physics, 1959
"Mr. Rhodes gives careful attention to the role which chemists played in developing the bomb. the Making of the Atomic Bomb strikes me as the most complete account of the Manhattan Project to date."–Glenn T. Seaborg, Nobel Laureate for Chemistry, 1951
"The Making of the Atomic Bomb is an epic worthy of Milton. Nowhere else have I seen the whole story put down with such elegance and gusto and in such revealing detail and simple language which carries the reader through wonderful and profound scientific discoveries and their application.
The great figures of the age, scientific, military, and political, come to life when confronted with the fateful and awesome decisions which faced them in this agonizing century. This great book dealing with the most profound problems of the 20th century can help us to apprehend the opportunities and pitfalls that face the world int he 21st."–I. I. Rabi, Nobel Laureate for Physics, 1944
About the Author
Richard Rhodes is the author of numerous books and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He graduated from Yale University and has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Appearing as host and correspondent for documentaries on public television’s Frontline and American Experience series, he has also been a visiting scholar at Harvard and MIT and is an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Visit his website: RichardRhodes.com
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"The Making of the Atomic Bomb" is a richly detailed epic, a table-shaking beast of a book that frequently sent me on evening walks to ponder and process the last few chapters I'd read. This is more than just a book about Hiroshima, Oppenheimer, and the Manhattan Project. We get an in-depth look at the early history of atomic physics, the personalities of key scientists, politicians, and military leaders, the complex political and military issues surrounding the bomb's development and use, and the historic and social events that shaped its creation. This is NOT a beach read - better put aside two weeks and plenty of undivided attention before tackling it!
I first read this book back in 2001, and I was totally enthralled by it, devouring it from cover to cover in four days. Having read it four times since then, some cracks have formed in its facade. Namely, it feels like two books grafted together - a decent one on the early history of nuclear physics, and an enthralling one on the actual making of the atomic bomb. The first 250 pages, while perhaps essential, tend to get bogged down by Rhodes' occasionally self-indulgent scene-setting (do we really need to know what shape the windows were?) and rather heavy philosophizing. Things pick up immensely with the actual discovery that the Uranium atom can be split, but I can see why some people give up early on. The "making of" is told with a remarkable lack of sensationalizing and sermonizing, and as horrific as the accounts of the actual bombings are, Rhodes is remarkably nonjudgmental about the bomb's use. People looking for pointed criticisms or historical revisionism will probably be disappointed; although Rhodes clearly abhors war, he seems to view Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the inevitable climax of an increasingly savage conflict against an enemy which refused to surrender. Considering how emotionally charged most books on nuclear weapons are, I actually admired Rhodes' somewhat pragmatic approach. Then again, it might leave others cold and confused.
Although it's not the flawless masterpiece I once held it as, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" is still a pretty solid tome. It's big, multi-layered, thought-provoking, darkly funny, disturbing, richly detailed, philosophical... and just a tad over-rated. The first third is somewhat rough going, and, in retrospect, could have used some careful editing. The last 500 pages, however, are among the best history writing I've ever read. If the early history of nuclear weapons and nuclear physics fascinates you, give it a shot. You just need some patience going in.
Now, as nuclear proliferation becomes a greater reality than ever, the threat of superpowers destroying each other in a geopolitical contest has been replaced by the idea of ideological dictators (like North Korea) or terrorist organizations (like ISIS) destroying cities and nations, and in so doing, becoming the cause of such a world-ending world war.
But how the atomic bomb was created is a story that many people do not know, and in itself, is a rich and fascinating tale. It combines basic scientific curiosity with the terrible geopolitics of the 1930s, the horrifying tableaux of the world's ghastliest war in the 1940s, the backdrop of Nazi racism, the incredible engineering power of the United States' economy and its military establishment, the growing paranoia and fears of the burgeoning Cold War, and some of the most interesting and intriguing characters in scientific, political, and military history...familiar names like Einstein and Fermi, somewhat less familiar names like Oppenheimer, Groves, and Bohr, and people who should be better remembered, like Kistiakowsky, Feynman, and Alvarez.
The scientific and engineering struggle to create the world's first "atomic device" is told with immense writing ability, great research, and rich detail -- an entire chapter focuses on anti-Semitism and how it worked in Europe, hindering Hitler's plans to build an atomic bomb and aiding America's. Later chapters depict in detail the engineering and scientific processes to create atomic piles, nuclear reactors, and finally, "The Gadget," to its first test on July 16, 1945.
After that, the pace continues to quicken, as "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" make well-documented voyages to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, and the atomic attacks are rendered from both points of view: American and Japanese -- victory and the shortening of the war for the Americans, an unbelievable horror for the Japanese. At the end, one feels cognizant of Albert Einstein's warnings about how nuclear weaponry would lead to "general annihilation."
This is a book that will fascinate, educate, and make you aware of the ghastly reality we face: we must live together as a species or die by mutual suicide.
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