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Saddam's Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq's Secret Weapon Paperback – October 9, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"I am lucky to be alive," writes Khidhir Hamza on the opening page of this memoir, which reads like a thriller. Hamza describes how he helped Saddam Hussein design a nuclear bomb over the course of 22 years. He has an amazing story to relate, and with the help of collaborator Jeff Stein, he tells it remarkably well. It begins with his cloak-and-dagger escape from Baghdad in 1994, then goes back in time to describe the education he received earlier in the United States. Hamza returned to his native Iraq, and Saddam seduced him into accepting the comfortable life of an atomic scientist trying to build a bomb for a megalomaniac. Hamza presents a terrifying, almost psychotic portrait of Hussein himself: the dictator--a man with "yellow, lifeless eyes"--has a paranoid fear of germs and a taste for Johnnie Walker Blue Label. He's prone to drunken rages and relies on sedatives to keep control of himself: "His personality grew more erratic with the ups and downs of the drugs, the liquor, and the pressures of command." Hamza recounts a story told by one of Saddam's doctors, in which the strongman was found "stomping about his palace bedroom in a blood-splotched shirt" near the body of a woman whose throat was slit.

Hamza was eventually kept under house arrest, and even threatened with torture. His escape was an astonishing feat, and the message he brought to the West is vital: "I have no doubt that Iraq is pursuing the nuclear option." The Gulf War slowed development, but failed to shut it down. The coalition that knocked Saddam out of Kuwait has fallen apart, and United Nations inspectors no longer try to keep him in check. Hamza urges policymakers to confront Saddam, and suggests that the CIA redouble its efforts to help topnotch scientists flee from their virtual captivity. If rogue nations experience a brain drain, he says, their capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction will suffer. Saddam's Bombmaker is hard to put down and essential reading for anybody interested in national security. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"Behind every closed door in Baghdad is a scientist or an official who would like to leave," writes Hamza, the former head of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, who defected in 1994Dand was initially dismissed by the CIA as an alarmist; to this day, he remains the only member of Saddam's inner circle to escape and survive. Early in his career, Hamza believed the bomb would serve only as "diplomatic leverage" and would never be completed, much less used. However, as Saddam gained greater control, the nuclear program became his obsession and he appointed Hamza as his right-hand man. Hamza's keen sense of pacing (balancing personal memoir with political history) and his clear and vivid writing serve to indict Iraq under Saddam, painting a detailed and convincing portrait of what it's like to live in a country under a violent dictator where there is no viable opposition or independent judiciary. In the West, Saddam became synonymous with terror only after his invasion of Kuwait, but for Iraqis that terror began far earlier. Hamza recalls colleagues who were tortured and killed, and doctors weeping as they told him of being forced to watch the killings of Shiites, whom Saddam feared politically, or the gassing of Kurds, designed both to eliminate this minority and to test biological weapons. Agent, Gail Ross. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743211359
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743211352
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,272,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, October 16, 2000*:
"[The authors] keen sense of pacing (balancing personal memoir with political history) and clear and vivid writing serve to indict Iraq under Saddam, painting a detailed and convincing portrait of what it's like to live in a country under a violent dictator where there is no viable opposition or independent judiciary. . .
Hamza recalls colleagues who were tortured and killed, and doctors weeping as they told him of being forced to watch the killings of Shiites, who Saddam feared politically, or the gassing of Kurds, designed both to eliminate this minority and to test biological weapons. . .
Forecast: Hamza was featured in an article in the New York Times Magazine on Oct. 2 and this book will get widely reviewed. Hamza's urgent message about how close Saddam is to completing a nuclear weapon makes the book not only newsworthy but of the broadest interest to a wide spectrum of readers concerned about the fate of the world in the nuclear age
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By A Customer on December 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before going into my own thoughts on this book, I would like to respond to an earlier reviewer who found this an obviously fictional account because:
"Basically, in atomic research you need lots of industrial equipment, like the South African and Israeli governments bought or developed(from other advanced nations). Iraq has nothing close to this."
To this I say: North Korea, Pakistan, India (and coming soon, Iran) -- and ??? In this I do not mean to disparage the countries named, but they clearly do not fall within that reviewers idea of a highly developed industrialized "Big 5" nation. What Iraq was not able to develop on its own, it WAS able to buy.
And that last is really one of the main themes of this book. The ability of Iraq to buy, and the willingness of others to sell, everything that Iraq needs -- for a price. This brought to mind Bernard Lewis's accounts in "Islam and the West" in which the West was more than willing to sell modern arms to Islamic states in the distant past. But I digress.
Dr. Hamzah portrays/is portrayed as a man caught up in a combination of greed, ego, and fear. He was finally able to extricate himself and his family (and his accounts of his difficulties dealing with the CIA do not bode well for the future). His description of how easily he was ensnared in this gilded cage, one step at a time, is truly a cautionary tale.
At the same time, his detailed description of how a rogue state can go about obtaining the necessary ingredients for a nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction) weapon is dismaying to say the least. But at least it takes a LOT of money.
The one element that did not ring true (for me)was Dr. Hamza's description of his poker playing.
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Format: Paperback
Convinced he had discovered that Iraq was only ` a few inches' away from finishing a successful production of the `Bomb', the author suddenly summoned undocumented story about 1) his contribution to the `bomb's project' from initial stages, and another 2) by alluding to IBM not able to sell Iraq up to date technology.
On page 141 he refers to IBM "couldn't sell us their new mainframe because of the export controls."
The truth of the matter is that the Arab Boycott Office had narrated a statement, called the `negative' (or Nasty) clause, to the effect that `carriers and ships carrying goods destined to and/or from the Arab Countries, should NOT pass through or deal with Israeli ports".
The Boycott Clause (stereotyped as is) was to be mentioned on the Bills of Lading and on all related shipping documents.
IBM had to comply with the USA anti Boycott regulations that did not accept such `negative' statements.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific book on several levels. First,it's a riveting account of life inside Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a country run on fear, and a chilling look at his campaign to develop nuclear weapons -- an arsenal that he intends to use someday.
But the book is also a deeply personal story of Dr. Hamza's journey out of madness. This is a fascinating tale, rich in detail, about his evolution from the dictator's most important scientist to a whistleblowing defector whose warnings about Saddam's plans are only now gaining the audience they deserve. But no dry academic tome or meditative memoir here -- this is a well-written, fast-paced thriller with a surprising twist or turn around every corner. The account of Hamza's flight to freedom, complete with dueling dissident groups, bumbling secret agents and dangerous border crossings, fairly crackles off the page and by itself is worth the price of admission.
One other point: another reviewer in these pages expressed some skepticism about Dr. Hamza's story. This was more than a little puzzling. Dr. Hamza has been vetted by the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department, all of which have attested to his bona fides. I wonder whether Dr. Hamza, having survived the terrors of Saddam's regime and lived to tell his story, will now face an assault on his credibility from sources whose own motives are open to question.
All in all, a great read that you'll think about -- and talk about -- long after the book is back on the shelf.
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