- Hardcover: 886 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (February 1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0671441337
- ISBN-13: 978-0671441333
- Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (698 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Making of the Atomic Bomb 1st Edition
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
From Publishers Weekly
The breadth and scope of this gripping narrative is almost as impressive as the story itself. Rhodes ( Looking for America describes the theoretical origins of the bomb, the lab experiments, the building of the prototype, the test at Alamagordo, the training of the B-29 crews assigned to deliver the first two combat bombs and the missions themselves. There's much more. Rhodes, gifted with sharp psychological insight and a novelist's ability to convey character, reveals the personalities and emotional dynamics among Niels Bohr, Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Ernest Lawrence, Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, Colonel Paul Tibbets and others responsible for conceiving, engineering, testing and ultimately dropping the apocalyptic devices on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In addition he describes the struggle in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to make the first bomb, as well as the political and military events that led inexorably to the destruction of the Japanese cities. This is the most comprehensive and authoritative book on the subject to date. Illustrations. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
"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.
THe book starts with a ruminating Leo Szilard as he wanders the streets of London, with the concept of an atom bomb germinating in his mind. His pesonality is so quirky, his propensity to find just the right contact to advance his agenda, make him the ideal vehicle to follow the story of the harnessing of the atom for military purpose. But to offer a full view, Rhodes starts with the Curies and their milieu, when they discovered radiation - a fundamental new form of energy that could not be explained by chemistry - that was the start of the 20C revolution in physics. Not only does this story cover such luminaries as Einstein and Bohr, but it includes many others lesser known, who added their discoveries to the pieces of the puzzle that finally elucidated the structure of the atom. These developments are also brilliantly set in European and American history, where the rise of Nazism renders them frighteningly relevant. In addition, other issues are addressed, such as the reason for the sudden blossomng of several Hungarian geniuses, including Szilard and von Neumann, who left their homeland for the US.
Then Rhodes moves to the practical question of the Bomb's development, which was accomplished predominently by European scientists in exile and some remarkable Americans as well. Here, you witness Enrico Fermi as he creates the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction in CHicago; the flowering of Oppenheimer's genius for administration; and the efforts that Heisenburg led, and perhaps sabotaged, in Nazi Germany. Each personality is given the depth you would expect in a historical novel with adventure, such as Bohr's flight from Norway, and the infighting that went on behind the scenes. It is simply a masterpiece of historical reporting.
Though his output has covered many topics, from his personal sexual history to hard scientific topics, Rhodes is indisputably one of America's greatest writers. I was fascinated by this book from page one and even took vacation time so that I could read it in peace while my daughter was in school.