January 1, 2017

This book (written by Richard Rhodes) was a colossal undertaking — 900 pages long and dense with references and end notes. One third of the way through the book I realised I hd reached 1,200 cross-references and no-one had actually started to build a bomb yet! Richard Rhodes pulled-off a difficult trick here; despite the length and density, this book was consistently fascinating and easy to read.

The story starts from the very earliest days of experimentation into nuclear physics, introducing the physicists who would play a part in creating the bomb. I was particularly struck by how the first word war, with its industrialisation of death, shaped these men (and they were men) and created their morality that allowed them to work on creating a weapon of this type.

It’s evident there was much research behind this book and the level of detail is astonishing. The story makes clear that there was an inevitability to the creation of the atomic bomb, given the international early research into nuclear physics. One strand of this history that stands out from this book is the way research and development in the USA allowed the scale of production of atomic material to increase. By comparison, development in Germany, Russia and Japan was hindered by lack of resources during World War 2.

Although Rhodes’ account is non-judgmental and dispassionate he does draw on first-hand accounts (the John Hersey in the New Yorker?) to demonstrate the horrors of the use of atomic weapons.

We all live with nuclear power and the weapons and I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in how we got here.


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