The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939–1949

Jim Baggott, Author
Jim Baggott, Author . Pegasus $35 (576p) ISBN 978-1-60598-084-3
Ebook - 590 pages - 978-1-4532-1836-5
Open Ebook - 584 pages - 978-1-60598-769-9
Paperback - 576 pages - 978-1-60598-197-0
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-306-59687-9
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Science journalist Baggott addresses a subject he describes as both personal and intellectual. How did the nuclear bomb, “this dreadful instrument of fear, come to be created?” Specifically, how did some of the world's great physicists contribute to a process that would “recalibrate what it means to be inhuman?” His answers combine published sources and recently declassified British, American, and Soviet archival material. He seeks the answers in the period from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939, through the efforts by the combatants to develop nuclear weapons, to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the early cold war arms race. Through these years, the author follows the great physicists, from Otto Frisch to Werner Heisenberg and Edward Teller. They realized early on the terrible power they could unleash, and FDR was warned of German efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Baggott concludes that the confluence of the discovery of nuclear fission with the leadup to war made the atom bomb inevitable, and the scientists were “drawn inexorably” into its development. Baggott's assertion that events confronted scientists with “[d]ecisions for which they were poorly prepared” is anticlimactic but all too accurate. (Apr.)

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