- Hardcover: 296 pages
- Publisher: Potomac Books (December 1, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1612348157
- ISBN-13: 978-1612348155
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,841,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Prometheus Bomb: The Manhattan Project and Government in the Dark Hardcover – December 1, 2016
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The subject of The Prometheus Bomb is extremely pertinent today, especially after the recent election.The central concern of this book is how responsible leaders of government make sense of a subject about which they are wholly ignorant. In places, Sullivan's thesis reads like a novel, and it is tense with uncertainty. After 70 years that uncertainty is more palpable than ever, making this book a must read.
Sullivan is a fine writer, and threads us deftly through the weedy waters of committee and sub-committee that preceded the actual work. Frequent mentioning of James Madison and the Federalist Papers situate the reader in the historical overview necessary for understanding the way forward.
This book should be mandatory reading for any future president and all concerned citizens.
FDR had no clue about nuclear weapons. He relied completely on competing scientists. His attitude was to try everything, because we only needed one thing to work. So the Manhattan Project hired scientists and engineers, built facilities in New York City, Hanford Washington, Oak Ridge Kentucky and Los Alamos New Mexico. It quickly took on an initial 40,000 employees in a top secret project – certainly secret from Congress. No one knew if nuclear fission could actually produce a serviceable bomb, or if that bomb could be made small enough to deliver. They didn’t know what sort of fuel would be best. They were literally making it up as they went along. They all had ideas. And questions. And fears.
One fear they didn’t have was environmental. Today, Hanford is a gigantic ecological disaster area that would cost $150 billion to clean up, even more than 30 miles away, well into Oregon.
The book is chock full of hypothetical questions. What ifs and if onlys and why didn’ts and it might have been differents. It’s like a high school teacher challenging students to take an interest. And it’s not a neutral telling, either. Sullivan injects his opinions everywhere (at one point chiding the 30 year old Woodrow Wilson that “he should have known better”). Second guessing and hindsight are the order of the day in The Prometheus Bomb. It is very much an “alternative history”. Sullivan breaks no new ground here.
It ends with a call to elect people sufficiently educated and smart to understand the science and the scientists that push us in new directions. Our electeds should be those “who have the intelligence, emotional makeup, and character to discern the public interest.”
The book starts off that way in an uniquely interesting way for a Manhattan Project book. Unfortunately, it veers off course. I've read my fair share of MP books and was looking forward to a refreshing view of the history through an organizational/bureaucratic/administrative lens. Sure, yeah, the technology, logistics, and coordination are interesting and fascinating MP topics but more fascinating thing is the decision making process. How were conflicts resolved? How were competing interests reconciled? Who made each decision, why were they the ones to do so, and what about our institutions make it such that these types of decisions even get made the way they do? Are things the same or have they gotten better or worse? Like I said, it started off that way but then kind of eventually went away. It turned into more of a high-level philosophical treatise based a fair amount on what felt like the author's opinions.
So much of our economy and society has become a challenge of how to produce or live in a technologically advanced "things"-based world. How do we keep moving forward in such a way that we keep all the various seemingly contradictory or competing interests in mind and fairly balanced? How do we keep from exploiting people but also reward those with the ability and wherewithal to do technologically difficult things? How do we reconcile these questions to find the right path forward without simply giving up or fighting against one another? These are important questions - very important questions if we're concerned about preserving democratic institutions and a relatively high standard of living. In that sense, the biggest question is: are technologically advanced societies and democratic institutions compatible with one another? That's what I was looking for from this book. I didn't get the answer I thought I was going to get nor one that I felt was intellectually fulfilling.
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I just wrapped up the reading of your book "The Prometheus Bomb", and while I seldom write to authors of the books I...Read more
Many engaging insights, thoughtful crafty writing..Read more