3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Worthwhile
The author covers the science and history of the atomic bomb very well. It is worth your time to read.
The book would have earned five stars if the author had not injected as much of his naive and politically correct view of the world as he does. Specifically, he spends a good deal of the last chapter and parts of earlier chapters indulging a woolly-headed belief...
Published on June 10 2004 by H. Scott Gingrich
3.0 out of 5 stars More about physics than The Bomb
A more appropriate title for this book would be "The History of the Physics behind the Making of the Atomic Bomb." For the casual reader, Rhodes places too much emphasis on physics, at the expense of the interesting history of The Atom Bomb itself. For example, Klaus Fuchs, the scientist who spied for the Russians, is only mentioned four times, and only once...
Published on July 20 1998 by email@example.com
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Worthwhile,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)The author covers the science and history of the atomic bomb very well. It is worth your time to read.
The book would have earned five stars if the author had not injected as much of his naive and politically correct view of the world as he does. Specifically, he spends a good deal of the last chapter and parts of earlier chapters indulging a woolly-headed belief that somehow the Stalin would have allowed the Soviet Union to become an open society in order to avoid the perils of a nuclear arms race, if only the U.S. and Britain had just done things differently. Also, while he does not entirely ignore the excellent reasons for dropping the atomic bombs, he devotes a great deal of space to those who, in ignorance of the the military realities of the war with Japan or because they could not bring themselves to make a hard decision which would save millions of Japanese and Allied lives, whined and railed against the use of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There are a few other subjects on which the author's "Late 20th Century Politically Correct" viewpoint comes through, but for the most part these were merely minor annoyances. Overall, and especially if you skip the last part of the last chapter, the book is excellent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vade mecum to the modern age,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)For me, the most dramatic - and scariest - part of the whole book is probably on p. 275: "Enrico Fermi...was standing at his panoramic office window high in the physics tower [of Columbia University] looking down the gray winter length of Manhattan Island, its streets alive as always with vendors and taxis and crowds. He cupped his hands as if he were holding a ball. 'A little bomb like that,' he said simply, for once not lightly mocking, 'and it would all disappear.'"
This was one day in the winter of 1938/1939, probably in Jan or Feb of 1939. Fermi was of course referring to the atomic warhead yet to be invented. Fermi's estimates of the size of the fissile material required to produce such a devastating effect remain as true today in this post-911 age as then.
I entirely agree with Rhodes that the key personality in the whole saga was not Einstein or Oppenheimer or even Fermi but Niels Bohr, who was the godfather to modern nuclear physics, who was the guiding spirit if not a working technician at Los Alamos, and whose complementarity principle, originally devised to explain quantum mechanics, became applicable to the dilemma of the bomb itself. Rhodes's emphasis on Bohr's complementarity both surprises and impresses me.
If I'm allowed one criticism, it would be that a timeline of the major developments is missing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece of Thoroughness,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)This book is so good that words fall short. Suffice it to say that this is one of the most well-researched, thorough, well-written, insightful and wise histories of a phenomenon ever produced. It is an epic story with tragic overtones, populated with a cast of characters as diverse and rich as a Russian novel. It is the WHOLE story of the development of the atomic bomb -- historical, scientific, political. The lengthy description of the physical processes instigated by the explosion of the first A-bomb in history in New Mexico is like a brilliant prose poem. The chapter called "Tongues of Fire," which concerns the fate of the Japanese upon whom the bombs were dropped, is one of the most nightmarish and horrifying things I've ever read, and I literally had to fend off tears. If you're interested in the subject, you simply must read this book.
I only have one tiny, tiny criticism to offer, which is almost not worth mentioning, though I'll mention it anyway. Though Rhodes' assessment of Robert Oppenheimer's character and qualifications is exemplary, the book left me slightly unclear over exactly why he was chosen to head the Manhattan Project. In other words, I would have liked more material about the decision-making processes that went on behind the scenes which ultimately lead to his appointment.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)This is an excellent book. I have read and re read this book several times.I have read several books on the actual dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and was quite interested in how it was made. I would highly recommend it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)A fascinating story that must have taken years (5?) to write.
5.0 out of 5 stars Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)Read "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" and get two excellent books for the price of one. An eminently readable scientific journal and as good a time capsule of the mood of World War II as you'll find anywhere.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Joy of Discovery,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)This book made me feel like I really could understand the intricacies of atomic power. Rhodes manages to throw into his well-written narrative the history of the Hungarian scientists who fled Nazi Germany, the personal stories of men like Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, and the genesis and eventual success of the Manhattan Project. The atomic bomb was truly a massive, detailed undertaking, and this book brings that story to life clearly and entertainingly. For instance, one fascinating aspect of this story is that the keys to releasing nuclear energy were discovered through chemists, not physicists, despite Einstein's relativity. If you really want to know what the government was and is up to in Rocky Flats, read this book.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this story was the way Rhodes captures the excitement of the scientists--from Ernest Rutherford to Leo Szilard to Niehls Bohr--as they learned, piece by piece, how to release nuclear energy. Then, once the Trinity test occurs, and then the bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, the entire tone of the book changes. It's almost as if the wind goes out of the scientists' (and the writer's) sails. Having built up this excitement, the men of the Manhattan Project take a look at what they have done and are suddenly horrified. I found this reaction simultaneously understandable and ridiculous. They were, after all, making a WEAPON, why were they so surprised when it worked so well?
This might serve as a cautionary tale. After all, as we know, nuclear weapons did not go away after World War II. The tremendous momentum built up at Los Alamos did not cease. Indeed, once fission power had been proven, Edward Teller and his team got approval to go ahead with development of fusion power, more specifically, hydrogen bombs.
The good part of this book is, you can read it without needing a degree in chemistry or physics, just a genuine interest in the subject. "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" rightly won the Pulitzer Prize. It tells a remarkable tale about a neglected chapter of our world's (so far) worst war. Unfortunately, you can also see the seeds for the next war within it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Birth of the Atomic Age,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)With all the official praise this book has received, there isn't a compelling reason to add another note. I agree with all the 5 star reviewers, but am puzzled by the fact that anyone with enough brains to write a review could fault this opus magnum. It is a treat to have the history of science in the 20th century written gracefully and with style.
Here is an opportunity to understand the power of quantitative ideas fused to leading intellect.I am a physician specializing in the care of cancer patients with radiation, so the physics, chemistry, and math was familiar. But don't be put off by the need to pause when reading; it is the best explanation of the topic I've ever read. Recently I loaned the book to a 98 year old physicist who was a contemporary of many of the players. He loved the book, and so will you!! All time top 10.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, understated genius,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)Few reviewers have discounted the seminal importance of this comprehensive history of the A-Bomb. Having just finished it, I can state that it is both a brilliant, detailed history of the history of the atomic bomb and a revelation on the nature of how atomic weapons have changed the world. It makes one question the entire history of America's involvement in the creation and use of weapons that have such destructive force. Indeed, when we put our most enormous scientific, engineering, and industrial talents to the task on the construction of a weapon of essentially unlimited destructive power it makes one wonder what truly great things this country is capable of aside from its war-making enterprise. This book answers what is possible--or, I would argue, at least poses the proper questions about the validity of the existence of atomic weaponry and their use upon Japan.
The narratives of the victims of the Hiroshima bomb is especially gripping and horrifying. It makes one pray that they will never survive such horror and madness and makes one question how we could have possibly decided to use such a completely savage weapon against civilians.
Rhodes has brought out the times and the people involved in the Manhattan Project with particular brilliance and insight into the personalities and pressures involved. The science is pretty heavy (for me, anyway) at times, but I think Rhodes approaches the subject as he must. You will probably feel your eyelids grow thick at the times he describes some of the physics involved--and apparently he delves into even more excruciating detail in the history of the H-Bomb--but I would rather be aware of the science than be ignorant of it for the sake of simplicity or "dumbing down" of a complex chain and history of scientific discoveries that lead up to an invention as remarkable, horrible, and powerful as an atomic bomb.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Historical Account Of Etiology of First Atomic Bomb!,
This review is from: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Paperback)One of the most admirable qualities of this truly marvelous work is its ability to paint the story of the creation of the first atomic weapon on the broadest possible canvas, reaching back into the bowels of history to trace, with the fidelity of a seismographic needle, the rise of both the specific intellectuals as well as the critical scientific mass to make the work not only conceivable, but possible. This is indeed a work that one reads repeatedly, for there is so much to digest within the pages of this masterwork as to defy any easy such description. So both the cast of involved personalities is long and incredibly interesting to witness as the author develops it, but then again, so is his description of the rise of theoretical physics through the work of Albert Einstein and his colleagues within the mostly European academic orbit in the first third of the twentieth century. In that sense, it is not strictly speaking, merely a detailed exposition dealing with what happened in New Mexico under incredibly secret circumstances during World War Two, as the Manhattan Project, even though it eventually gravitates toward being exactly that.
Instead, the book opens as an exploration into the minds of some brilliantly eccentric professors and intellectuals struggling within theoretical physics on the very cutting edge of the unknown, and then stretching it in quite unsuspected and revolutionary ways. And as the critical mass of theoretical knowledge began to cluster within the fairly small community of like-minded souls, the scene changes based on world politics and the rise of fascism. It is an interesting curiosity that had Hitler been less vitriolic in his condemnation of Jews, he might have forestalled the emigration of critical players in this unfolding melodrama, and so might have altered his own destiny and that of his most important ally, Japan. For just as the kluge of intellectuals conceded that such a weapon was indeed theoretically possible and feasible, many of them began to flee to more hospitable environs, including both the USA and Britain. Without their help, it is questionable as to whether the Manhattan Project could have ever succeeded.
The author is also quite convincing in his take concerning the long-rumored notion that the Nazis were also rushing toward development of the bomb, which Rhodes believes to be unsubstantiated by the available evidence. In fact, he argues exactly the opposite, that the Nazis were neither very interested in the development of such a weapon, and did not enjoy sufficient access to the kinds of materials they would have needed to mount a serious developmental nuclear program. Yet the majority of the book focuses memorably on the events transpiring in and around Los Alamos. The program to develop a useable atomic bomb was so massive and so secret that it is hard to imagine its scope at the time. Rhodes' prose admirably supports his sometimes almost confessional style, and he writes well enough to interest us in the most prosaic description even as he is describing events and people who literally transformed the world. This book has an incredible panorama to its rather ambitious scope, which includes biographical, scientific, sociological, political, and economic elements to it. It is indeed a classic, and deserves its status as one of the best-written accounts of the events of World War Two yet published. Enjoy!
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The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes (Paperback - 1995)
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