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The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard…

The Making of the Atomic Bomb (original 1986; edition 1995)

by Richard Rhodes

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2,074343,198 (4.48)58
Title:The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Authors:Richard Rhodes
Info:Simon & Schuster (1995), Paperback, 928 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes (1986)

  1. 00
    Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes (Anonymous user)
  2. 00
    Lawrence and Oppenheimer by Nuel Pharr Davis (gneimer)
    gneimer: An interesting biography of two men who helped shape the atomic era. Rhodes pulls quite a bit of information from this book. A study in contrast between Lawrence and Oppenheimer.

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English (31)  Hebrew (1)  Icelandic (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Scary and thorough story of the Atom bomb and the characters and lies and stupidity
that occurred in it's development. Frightening real life drama. Non-fiction ( )
  Bruce_Deming | Feb 5, 2016 |
Absolute page turner and a fantastic read. Highly recommended. ( )
  JonathanCrites | Oct 27, 2015 |
A marvelous epic, told from the very beginning of atomic science all the way to the horrors unleashed on Japan. To give you a sense of the pacing in this book, it's over 250 pages before scientists even realize they can split the atom—and Rhodes manages to churn that process of discovery into great non-fiction storytelling.

For all the physicists involved, the Manhattan Project's accomplishments were mostly in engineering and scale. Outside of innovative work done modeling the high-speed dynamics of explosives (to create the lenses that symmetrically compressed the core of Fat Man), most of the science underpinning atomic bombs was in place years before the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some of the project physicists were even beginning work on the hydrogen bomb.

But while Rhodes begins with an amazing spate of scientific explanation and exposition, his strongest storytelling may be the last forty pages of the book, dedicated to the aftermath in Hiroshima. Large chunks are the vivid and horrifying testimony of survivors, and Rhodes paces them so well that they become not deadening but newly scary with every revelation. I made the mistake of finishing the book right before I went to bed, and awoke at 7am with nightmares, which hasn't happened from a book in.. at least a decade? ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
There are essentially three stories here. The process of scientific investigation of the atom that brought about the discovery that nuclear fission had potential as a means for the controlled and uncontrolled release of large amounts of energy; the political and ethical discussion that led to the decision to develop and exploit this, and the engineering effort needed to realise it in practice. Rhodes does a good job of balancing these three elements - I was reasonably familiar with both the science and the politics from other sources, but I still found his account interesting and occasionally it even told me something I'd overlooked before. About the engineering side of things I knew essentially nothing, and there I found this account absolutely fascinating. When you understand the sheer scale of the effort required to produce useful quantities of enriched uranium or plutonium, it makes you see the whole thing in quite a different way. It wasn't a matter of a few élite scientists tinkering on a mesa in New Mexico: as Rhodes describes it there were vast factory complexes in several different regions of the USA employing tens of thousands of workers to produce a few kilos of bomb material. And presumably not having the least idea what they were making.

Whilst he is very good as a descriptive writer, with only the occasional irritating mannerism (e.g. a tendency to be a bit patronising when mentioning the wives of the male scientists), what I missed in this book was analysis. Except when his characters stop to reflect themselves, Rhodes never really steps away from the flow of the action, and he doesn't get into discussions of why something happened, how to resolve conflicting reports of something, or what might have happened had a different decision been taken. It's all very much "it happened, therefore it happened".

Rhodes never directly expresses a moral judgement on the people who took the decision to build the bomb and to use it. His technique is to present us with the evidence (as he sees it) and let us make up our own minds. Which is probably sensible, if he wants to sell his book to generals as well as to liberals, and gets him off the hook of judging with hindsight. But the way the evidence is presented does seem to be designed to remind us that the worst atrocities of World War II were carried out with "conventional" weapons, and to guide us into agreeing that it would have been dangerous not to work on atomic weapons whilst there was a risk that Hitler might be doing the same, and foolish of Truman not to use the atom bomb to end the war with Japan. Which of course skips over a few problematic areas...

Rhodes tells us surprisingly little about how much the various participants in the nuclear arms race knew about each other's work during the war. Even if security and espionage fall a little outside the framework of the book, these are very relevant questions for the decision-making process (at the moment when you discover that Hitler has no realistic chance of building a bomb, your main justification for developing a US bomb falls away, for instance). I wonder if some of his vagueness here is deliberate, or whether it is simply a matter of not having been granted access to the relevant records? The argument he mentions, that the project was so secret it would have been unacceptably risky even to tell a field agent what questions to ask, doesn't seem terribly convincing. ( )
1 vote thorold | Apr 28, 2015 |
This is a very important point in scientific history, and students would de well to know the story behind it. I would probably use this as supplementary material for the chemistry lesson on nuclear reactions.
  ogroft | Apr 14, 2015 |
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Richard Rhodesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ratzkin, LawrenceCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In London, where Southampton Row passes Russel Square, across from the British Museum in Bloomsbury, Leo Szilard waited irritably one gray Depression morning for the stoplight to change.
Early in 1945 Oak Ridge began shipping bomb-grade U235 to Los Alamos. Between shipments Groves took no chance with a substance far more valuable gram for gram than diamonds. Although the Army had condemned all the land and ejected the original inhabitants from the Clinton reservation area, at the dead end of a dusty reservation back road cattle grazed on a pasture beside a white farmhouse. A concrete silo towered over the road which was sheltered by a steep bluff. From the air the scene resembled any number of small Tennessee holdings, but the silo was a machine-gun emplacement, the farm was manned by security guards, and built into the side of the bluff a concrete bunker shielded a bank-sized vault completely encircled with guarded walkways. In this pastoral fortress Groves stored his accumulating grams of U235. Armed couriers transported it as uranium tetrafluoride in special luggage by car to Knoxville, where they boarded the overnight express to Chicago. They passed on the luggage the next morning to their Chicago counterparts, who held a reserved space on the Santa Fe Chief. Twenty-six hours later, in midafternoon, the Chicago couriers debarked at Lamy, the stranded desert way station that served Santa Fe. Los Alamos security men met the train and completed the transfer to the Hill, where chemists waited eagerly to reduce the rare cargo to metal.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684813785, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:29 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Describes in human, political, and scientific detail the complete story of how the bomb was developed, from the turn-of-the-century discovery of the power of the atom, to the first bombs dropped on Japan.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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