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Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300066647
ISBN-10: 0300066643
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tracing the development of nuclear power in Stalinist Russia, Holloway examines such topics as the role of espionage and the relationships between scientists and politicians.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300066643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300066647
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
David Holloway, a professor at Stanford, has published an intriguing history of Soviet nuclear weapons development in _Stalin_and_the_Bomb_. This volume interweaves two main themes--the technical difficulties in designing and fabricating nuclear weapons, and the political motivations commanding these efforts along with their strategic implications.
Many of the major participants are familiar to readers of Soviet history, such as Stalin, Beria, Molotov and Khrushchev. However, the important actors in this drama were the technical experts who created these engines of destruction on behalf of their masters. Many prominent scientists labored to provide the theoretical and experimental support demanded by Stalin for rapid industrialization, laying the groundwork for the tremendous infrastructure needed to duplicate the achievements of the Manhattan Project years later. Research in radioactivity eventually led to the first spontaneous fission experiment in 1940, but this did not attract attention in the West, where restrictions began for publication on nuclear physics.
Work on fission continued during the war, but the lack of uranium prevented much advancement. Holloway, in examining the directives during this period, found priorities unchanged following the Potsdam meeting, in contrast to the subsequent demand for uranium production after Hiroshima. He attributes Stalin's casual reaction to Truman's mention of a new weapon to skepticism regarding its importance. But the bomb as a colossal reality, not merely as an intelligence phantom, presented Stalin with a new strategic contention. His response was to show resolve in the face of anticipated intimidation coupled with orders to develop this technology independently.
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Format: Hardcover
Stalin and the Bomb is an excellent overview not only of the Soviet atomic project but of the entire Stalin period. Holloway discusses some of the disastorous policies Stalin pursued in the scientific arena (for example, when it came to biology) and shows how Stalin was able to control his ideological impulses when it came to a project that would net him real power.
Stalin and the Bomb is extremely readable and provides some nice detail on Kurchatov, the father of the Soviet A-bomb. A little more on Sakharov and the H-bomb project would have been nice, but was not central to the thrust of the book. Significantly, this book delves into significant technical detail about the research and construction of nuclear weapons, but the author does a superb job of making the science accessable to people without PhDs in physics.
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Format: Paperback
D. Holloway tells us outstandingly and very detailed the gripping story of the development of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union. He shows us that the SU success was the result of the effort of Russian scientists with I.V. Kurchatov in a crucial role, although some data were obtained via spying (Klaus Fuchs).

The nuclear weapons building combined the best (scientists, engineers) and the worst of the SU, with prisoners working in appalling conditions (no protection) and real nuclear exercises with soldiers as guinea pigs.

D. Holloway analyzes also pregnantly the hostile ideological environment for scientists. The regime's fundamental logic remained political. The politicians had the right to define what was science and pseudoscience. In the name of dialectical materialism whole scientific disciplines (e.g. genetics) were destroyed (the Lyssenko case).

Physics also came under attack. Beria asked Kurchatov if it was true that quantum mechanics and relativity theory were idealist, antimaterialist. Kurchatov replied that if relativity theory and qm were rejected, the bomb would be rejected too. Stalin's ultimate answer was:' Leave them in peace, we can shoot them later!' (p. 204)

This 'pseudoscientific' debate was held within a bureaucratic framework. Scientists were well paid and the party bureaucrats and ideologues were jealous and wanted to take their place, even if they were incompetent. Beria left physics unhampered because he needed the bomb. In that sense, physics remained a small element of civil society in a totalitarian state. But if the scientists had failed, they would certainly have received a neckshot.

The impact of nuclear weapons on international political relations is also outstandingly explained.
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Format: Paperback
This well written book is an insightful look at the onset of the Cold War and the role of nuclear weapons. It is based on significant research in Soviet archives and interviews with some of the important Soviet figures. Since access to Soviet archives have become more restricted in recent years, Holloway's book continues to be a major source of information about early Soviet nuclear policy. Holloway pursues 3 closely related themes. The first is the history of the Soviet nuclear weapons program, set very well in the context of the historical development of the Soviet physics community. The second is the relationship between the Soviet physics community and the Soviet state, and in particular how Soviet physicists attempted to balance the norms of science as a transnational phenomenon and the demands of the state. The third, and the one of broadest interest, is how nuclear weapons affected Soviet foreign policy.

Holloway presents a nice, concise history of Soviet nuclear physics, providing significant information about a number of the important figures. The key point is that by mid-30s, there was a vigorous Soviet physics community with a number of strong international ties and contributing significantly to research in nuclear physics. From this very impressive group would come the personnel who developed the Soviet nuclear weapons program. Holloway writes sensitively about the difficulties inherent in the position of scientists in a totalitarian state, particularly as Soviet society became more closed with the rise of Stalin. The impressive intellectual power of the Soviet physics community, clearly supported by equivalent intellectual power in crucial related areas in chemistry and engineering, made the Soviet nuclear program possible.
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