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Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly Paperback – November 23, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The world waited anxiously for the other shoe to drop, according to this history of the fraught period between America's atomic bombing of Japan and the Soviet Union's 1949 test of its first nuclear device. Princeton historian of science Gordin (Five Days in August) treats the era as a study in the pitfalls of incomplete information. American officials tried to keep nuclear technology secret (but not too secret: they fretted that not publishing crucial data would tell the Soviets what to look for) and conjectured endlessly about when Russia would get the bomb. Meanwhile, the Soviets, working from espionage and revealing American public sources, wondered whether their information on bomb making was trustworthy and struggled to overcome huge gaps in their knowledge. When American radiological monitors detected a Soviet nuclear blast in 1949, American officials worried about the geopolitical fallout from revealing their knowledge of the Russian success, which Stalin kept secret. Gordin's suggestion that the mania for information control furthered an arms race that might have been avoided seems dubious, but his account of the epistemological hall of mirrors that was the early cold war is fluent. 7 b&w illus. (Oct. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Gordin has crafted a quite wonderful book . . . [It] greatly expands what we should know about the contest for nuclear supremacy in the early Cold War. Heartily recommended.” ―Ed Goedeken, Library Journal

“More than a tale of scientific ingenuity, [Red Cloud at Dawn] probes the human motives of those involved in a high-stakes drama . . . A perceptive study, rich with implications for a twenty-first-century world still fraught with nuclear tensions.” ―Bryce Christensen, Booklist

“Michael Gordin brings vividly to life the end of the American atomic monopoly. By focusing on what each side knew--and did not know--about the other, he sheds new and original light on the origins of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race. This is a stylish book, with important implications for how we think about nuclear weapons past and present.” ―David Holloway, author of Stalin and the Bomb

“Nothing about the early cold war can be understood without grasping the terrifying first few years of nuclear weapons. Everything was in play: who would have them, who would control them, would they be used to enforce a pax Americana. Spies, diplomats, treaties, and detonations--nothing gripped decision makers as much as the atomic arsenal, from screaming headlines to the silent intelligence analyses on both sides of the divide. In Red Cloud at Dawn, Michael Gordin zeros in on the crucial years from Hiroshima to the first flash of ‘Joe 1' in 1949, the first Russian bomb and the ninth nuclear explosion. Using a spectacular variety of sources from Soviet and American sources, Gordin gives us a book that must be read to understand how we came to the sprawling nuclear proliferation in which we now live.” ―Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University

“Beginning with Truman's revelation to Stalin that the United States had an unusually powerful weapon, Michael Gordin tells the story of the Soviet A-bomb and the origins of the Cold War arms race. The ‘dialectical dance' of the superpowers entailed a deadly embrace that cost millions but miraculously avoided nuclear holocaust. This is a story of intelligence in both senses of the word--of spies and scientists, of information rather than simply fissionable material and devices. The red mushroom cloud rose on August 29, 1949, and, as Gordin's compelling narrative shows, the fallout, in its many senses, remains with us today.” ―Ronald Suny, Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History, University of Michigan


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (November 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312655428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312655426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,132,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Gelman on October 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
August 29,1949 would have been another day in the history of mankind, had it not been the day when the American monopoly over the atom bomb had come to an end.On that day,the first Soviet bomb, called "First Lightning" exploded in the deserts of Kazakhstan.This event was to lead to nuclear proliferation beyond the two supepowers.
The book starts with the Potsdam Conference, where Truman had revealed to the Russian dictator Stalin that the USA were in the possession of a devastating weapon.Stalin remained calm and it was at this point where speculation started as to the reasons of why Stalin has reacted(or did not react)the way he had.One thing was clear:the Russians knew berofehand about the American atom project,called "Manhattan".They obtained this information from so many spies who were responsible for transmitting this news to them.These spies were not necessarily employed by the GRU or the NKGB bosses.There were many scientists, like Klaus Fuchs or Alan Nunn May who were working for comrade Stalin because they shared his ideological ideas.The extent of espionage about the "Manhattan Project" for the development of the first Soviet nuclear bomb became known after the Russian archives holding relevant materials
opened their gates to the public and scholars alike.One of Moscow spymasters was Pavel Sudoplatov-the man who was also responsible for dispatching the man who would assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.Sudoplatov claimed that Beria summoned him in February 1944 to head a new department (dubbed "S") to deal with atomic espionage.This department was to integrate the information which the NKGB and the GRU got from their various sources.The name of the whole espionage operation was "Enormoz",showing the extent of suh a mammoth enterprise.
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Format: Hardcover
That's the day when the Cold War heated up; it was the day when the Soviet Union exploded their first fission bomb, the US lost its monopoly and the world becomes much more dangerous. Much of what is presented in this enlightening, fact filled book will be the ramifications of that event but the book begins at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 when President Truman tells Stalin of the new weapon the US has. Truman, over confident in the US monopoly in nuclear technology, believed Stalin was ignorant of the Manhattan Project or of the capabilities of nuclear weapons when in reality the Soviet Union knew all about the Manhattan Project and had already started their own program. That over confidence will cause the US to make some poor decisions in the coming years.

Though spending some time describing the Soviet's nuclear program, the author doesn't spend any appreciable time describing the Manhattan Project but delves into the political and intelligence aspects of these two super powers escalating the Arms Race into the 1950s and beyond.
During the Yeltsin era, Soviet classified documents were opened to the public and using this material and other sources the author has updated the Soviet position of what they knew and when they knew it as well as what they did and why they did it. Much coverage is given to the espionage programs of both countries in determining the developments of the other. To complete the story, Mr Gordin describes the actions the US took to block, neutralize and prevent Soviet dominance in the nuclear arms race as well as its standing in the world as our world was becoming polarized. He also describes the political environment Washington was morphing into. Its a fascinating but frightening story that is still shaping the world today.
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Format: Hardcover
if you are interested in nuclear proliferation and nuclear strategy, then you'll be thrilled reading this book. It is a very, very interesting look at the period of time from the detonation of the "Trinity" test, up until the detonation of "First Lightening" (the Soviet test). Each chapter focuses on a certain side of the government and the politics, such as the "announcement" of Trinity to Stalin, the announcement of the first Soviet test, the effort to put in-place nuclear detection devices...all fascinating.

One thing I would like is more pictures. Many of the figures here, such as the AEC chairman and even the SecDef(s), are mostly unknown today. I'd love to see more pictures of these people, the devices involved, the atomic tests, etc., etc. This was a time of enormous "look at that" stuff, and I wish the book had many more pictures, drawings and illustrations.

Also, I would be thrilled to see the author do a sequel to this book, say the next decade when the atomic bomb led to a full-blown arms race, particularly with the US Strategic Air Command (SAC). That would be fascinating.
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Format: Kindle Edition
"Red Cloud at Dawn" focuses on a relatively short time period of the Atomic Age, from 1945 to 1952. It does so with laser-like intensity. It begins with the tripartite Potsdam Conference, at which Harry Truman, Clement Attlee and Josef Stalin discussed their post-World-War-II plans and priorities, and during which the U.S. ushered in the Atomic Age by testing its atomic bomb at Trinity Site in New Mexico. It basically ends with the U.S. test of the world's first successful thermonuclear device at Eniwetok in the Pacific. In between, author Michael D. Gordin's story is mostly about how the Soviet Union was able to develop and test its own atomic bomb, and thus end the U.S. nuclear monopoly, years before most experts expected.

Dr. Gordin weaves together several strands in his tale of the early Soviet atomic bomb program. He shows how Stalin's bomb makers used open-source and declassified literature, espionage and indigenous capabilities to build a clone of the Trinity device, but then quickly moved beyond that to develop their own designs. He shows how America developed the key long-range detection technology that enabled Truman to confidently announce the first Soviet test in 1949, before the Soviets did. And he looks at the events and personalities that fomented suspicion and mistrust among the nuclear-armed powers and triggered the nuclear arms race that obsessed both the U.S. and the Soviet Union for nearly half a century.

Dr. Gordin presents the story of a relatively little known aspect of the history of nuclear weapons with consummate skill, insightful analysis and a refreshingly objective approach.
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