The Prometheus Bomb: The Manhattan Project and Government in the Dark

Neil J. Sullivan. Potomac, $29.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-61234-815-5
There are many histories of the atom bomb, but this excellent addition to the literature from Sullivan (Diamond in the Bronx), professor in the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, tells the story from an unusual angle, pointing out that many of the American leaders who launched the Manhattan Project as a matter of national survival had no understanding of the science involved. The scientists made decisions with potentially catastrophic consequences while assuming, correctly, that their superiors would go along. Politicians made political choices with similar insouciance. Told that the war effort required some patriotic silence about rather large military expenditures, Congress submitted to the demands of the fledgling national security apparatus, beginning a baleful tradition. In deciding not to share details with allies, America offended Britain but not the U.S.S.R., whose spies kept it informed. It’s arguable whether any historian can deliver a satisfying explanation for Truman’s decision to use the bomb, but Sullivan examines everyone’s motives without resorting to hindsight. Readers of Richard Rhodes’s classic, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, will not regret reading this parallel history, which passes over Oppenheimer and his brilliant crew in order to emphasize their non-scientist superiors, including Vannevar Bush, Gen. Leslie Groves, and F.D.R. Sullivan shows that the decisions of these powerful men triumphed in the short run but produced dismal long-term consequences that remain with us. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/03/2016
Release date: 12/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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