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The Making of the Atomic Bomb Paperback – International Edition, August 1, 1995
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If the first 270 pages of this book had been published separately, they would have made up a lively, insightful, beautifully written history of theoretical physics and the men and women who plumbed the mysteries of the atom. Along with the following 600 pages, they become a sweeping epic, filled with terror and pity, of the ultimate scientific quest: the development of the ultimate weapon. Rhodes is a peerless explainer of difficult concepts; he is even better at chronicling the personalities who made the discoveries that led to the Bomb. Niels Bohr dominates the first half of the book as J. Robert Oppenheimer does the second; both men were gifted philosophers of science as well as brilliant physicists. The central irony of this book, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, is that the greatest minds of the century contributed to the greatest destructive force in history.
Carl Sagan A stirring intellectual adventure...clear, fast-paced, and indispensable.
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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 somewhat 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.
Title: Scientifically Accurate – Overly Wordy
Richard Rhodes tome deserves its acclaim as the most comprehensive history of the development of the atomic bomb. As a scientist with advanced degrees in quantum physics I can attest to its scientific accuracy. Mr. Rhodes’s has a gift for explaining complex technical details to a lay audience. I found his lengthily discourse on the lives of scientists enlightening but non-scientists might find these sidebars distracting.
There is one question on the development of atomic weapons that has haunted me. What would have happened if Otto Hahn’s paper on the discovery of nuclear fission had not been published six months before the Nazi invasion of Poland? Would the major powers have invested so much talent and money on the urgent development of an atomic bomb? It is unlikely this question will ever be answered