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The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard…

The Making of the Atomic Bomb (original 1986; edition 1987)

by Richard Rhodes (Author)

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2,756413,637 (4.47)74
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.
Title:The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Authors:Richard Rhodes (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster (1987), Edition: 1st, 886 pages
Collections:Your library

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

  1. 10
    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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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
The book is really comprehensive. Some of the science aspects were not gone sufficiently into depth and glossed over (understandable, since to understand that we'd have to have studied physics or chemistry), but the political, historical and social aspects were covered quite thoroughly. I really enjoyed the way the science was woven in with these aspects to keep the book from getting too dry. Nevertheless, the book requires great concentration to read - and good lighting because of the small font. A reread should follow a couple of months afterwards, because there is so much information that you can't internalise it in one read.

I'm not giving five stars, because at some points you lose the thread and forget about the person being currently talked about. There are so many characters with only a brief line or two of introduction that are referenced or appear later on that it is impossible to keep track of them. A glossary of the referenced people is sorely needed. I'd recommend for beginners to keep a pen and paper handy and note down character details.
( )
  SVY | May 25, 2020 |
This is a very highly regarded book, and you can read all about its merits in the other reviews, so I'll focus on my negative impressions.

First, it's frequently boring. I don't think I would have got through it had I not had access to an audiobook version, which kept me going at times when I couldn't summon the motivation to read more than a couple of pages in a sitting. Rhodes often goes into lenghty, tedious detail. His reasoning as to when to do so isn't obvious to me; sometimes he simply seems to be taking the 'kitchen sink' approach you might expect from a lesser writer, desperate that none of his research should go to waste.

Topics that I would have liked to learn more about -- such as the decision to drop the second bomb so soon after the first, and how close this came to being averted from either the Japanese or American end -- are glossed over in a few pages, or -- like the role of Klaus Fuchs, who is mentioned twice in passing, the second time with a slightly ominous tint, then never heard of again -- ignored entirely. (I realise these topics might seem peripheral to Rhodes' main focus, but it'd be much easier to accept that if he'd elsewhere shown any concern to save ink or his readers' patience.)

The scientific explanations seemed to fall into an awkward middle ground between popular and technical: they were often lengthy and difficult to follow, but they didn't leave me with a significantly greater understanding than could have been conveyed much more concisely and entertainingly. (This is certainly partly my fault for not putting enough effort in, but I didn't get the sense that it would have paid off, and my laziness was also motivated by fatigue from wading through the rest of the book.)

And although Rhodes is obviously a skilful writer, his literary flourishes, portentious pronouncements and confident judgments of character sometimes verge on pomposity.

I should note though that my reading style is different from many others' -- for one thing, I'm quite bad at visualising what I read, and much more interested in ideas and psychological detail than in scene-setting and thorough visual description. So I'm sure that some of what I characterised as tedious detail was in fact both entertaining and enlightening to others.

And a final caveat: as I noted at the beginning, I decided to focus on the negatives here, but much of what the other reviewers have said is valid, and this is undeniably an impressive achievement. ( )
  matt_ar | Dec 6, 2019 |
Amazing story. I had expected just a story of the development of the atomic bomb itself, but the first half covers the development of the necessary atomic physics (very well explained). Full of incredible details, I learned a lot. It concludes with a powerful description of the Hiroshima bombing. ( )
  breic | Dec 14, 2018 |
Rhodes' tome (788 pages of narrative) is impressive, comprehensive and thought provoking. He begins with Leo Szilard conceiving of a chain reaction, then traces the history of nuclear physics, providing thoughtful character studies of major players like Szilard, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller and others. Rhodes also covers the politics of the republic of science and the politics of the nation-states moving toward war and then at war in the late 1930s and 1940s. I was fascinated by his detailed accounts of the selection and construction of the industrial plants at Hanford and Oak Ridge necessary to produce the bombs and also by his coverage of the German and Japanese efforts to produce a fission bomb. All this and more, and all of it gripping, inter-related and essential to understand the world we dwell in today, more than 70 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which Rhodes does not neglect, either. ( )
  nmele | Nov 2, 2017 |
This is a powerful, deeply affecting book. Its 800 pages are dense, and require much of the reader. But the return is a comprehensive account of the development of the atomic bomb: the nuclear physics of the first decades of 20th century that made the effort possible; the historical context that led to its construction; the scientific collaboration at Los Alamos and how the feat was accomplished. In a forceful closing, Rhodes offers an astute evaluation of the results, implications and challenges the bomb brought to the world.
Many books fail to stand the test of time; here the three decades since its publication have only affirmed its centrality in telling the story of the atomic bomb. Rhodes had access to some of the key figures in the making of the bomb who were then still alive, which supplemented his exceptional talent for writing history and the history of science. And to the reader’s good fortune, Rhodes happens to be an impeccable prose stylist. The book justly received the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.
As a reader of the history of science, I was firmly in the grip of Rhodes’ delivery of the familiar but still electrifying story of nuclear physics from the early discovery of xrays and radioactivity (Röntgen, Becquerel, Curie) at the end of the 19th century through its culmination in Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner’s discovery of nuclear fission. While told in meticulous detail, this long section reads like a scientific thriller.
Any serious account of the making of the atomic bomb must contend with the responses of the scientists to the consequences of their work. Three figures central to the intellectual underpinnings of the Manhattan Project cast a giant moral shadow over this story. Leo Szilard is well known for his letter co-written with Einstein to FDR informing him of the feasibility of a bomb, and warning of the possibility of a German nuclear effort. He was also the man who developed the idea that connected nuclear fission to a bomb: the nuclear chain reaction. And yet as the bomb neared completion, Szilard exhausted himself in trying to encourage the United States not to use it. Robert Oppenheimer, brilliant director of the Manhattan Project, is seen after his greatest success to labor under the impossible burden of having brought such destructive power into the world. Finally, Neils Bohr, among the greatest and most influential of scientists, is shown as the conscience of his peers. Bohr used his authority to present to the Allied leaders his concept of the complementarity represented by the bomb. In this he meant that the destructiveness of the weapon contained an inherent opposite – that the power of the bomb necessitated fundamental changes in political arrangements, and in fact required us to put an end to war. The alternative was an arms race leading to the unthinkable.
Rhodes ultimately puts the atomic bomb into its most important human context: with Bohr’s notion of its complementarity, comes the imperative to face the fundamental changes wrought by nuclear technology. He argues that the modern nation-state has appropriated the power of science and fashioned out of it a death machine. He sees citizens “slowly come to understand that in a nuclear world their national leaders cannot, no matter how much tribute and control they exact, protect even their citizens’ bare lives, the minimum demand the commons have made in exchange for the political authority that is ultimately theirs alone to award.” Our minimal protection is the mere hope of the restraint of others similarly armed. Seventy years after Hiroshima, thirty years after the publication of this book, are we any closer to addressing the imperatives thrust upon us?
In 1946, Einstein famously warned “The splitting of the atom changed everything save man’s mode of thinking, thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.” Einstein was right about so many things. Let us hope that this too will not prove to be one of them. ( )
2 vote stellarexplorer | Mar 29, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rhodes, Richardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gardner, GroverNarratorsecondary authorsome 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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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.

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