The Bomb: A Life / Edition 1

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Overview

Bombs are as old as hatred itself. But it was the twentieth century—one hundred years of incredible scientific progress and terrible war—that brought forth the Big One, the Bomb, humanity's most powerful and destructive invention. In The Bomb: A Life, Gerard DeGroot tells the story of this once unimaginable weapon that—at least since 8:16 a.m. on August 6, 1945—has haunted our dreams and threatened our existence.

The Bomb has killed hundreds of thousands outright, condemned many more to lingering deaths, and made vast tracts of land unfit for life. For decades it dominated the psyches of millions, becoming a touchstone of popular culture, celebrated or decried in mass political movements, films, songs, and books. DeGroot traces the life of the Bomb from its birth in turn-of-the-century physics labs of Europe to a childhood in the New Mexico desert of the 1940s, from adolescence and early adulthood in Nagasaki and Bikini, Australia and Kazakhstan to maturity in test sites and missile silos around the globe. His book portrays the Bomb's short but significant existence in all its scope, providing us with a portrait of the times and the people—from Oppenheimer to Sakharov, Stalin to Reagan—whose legacy still shapes our world.

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Editorial Reviews

The Times
Gerard DeGroot...has produced a timely account of mankind's most awful invention, wrly wrapped as a biography...This is a clever cocktail of reportage, analysis and anecdote, from the physics of the bomb's conception to the B-movies it inspired (notably Night of the Lepus, in which the world is threatened by giant mutant rabbits.) There are also some well-aimed blows at the late Ronald Reagan, who despite hagiographical obituaries tinkered with the superpower balance with a dangerous whimsy.
— Peter Millar
American Scientist
The Bomb chronicles nuclear weapons from their conception in the 1930s through the end of the century, focusing mainly on the decisions made from 1940 to 1962 to develop and use devices of unimaginable destruction and become ironically reliant on them for maintaining peace. Was it the Soviets or the Americans who pushed the crazy escalation in megatons and warheads? The answer isn't so simple as I once thought. I count this among the best history books I've read. DeGroot's effort clarifies a bewildering and, in retrospect, insane time.
— David Schoonmaker
Discover
Pausing to consider the glory days of atomic enthusiasm (check out the mushroom-cloud–adorned Miss Atomic Bomb of 1957), DeGroot traces the vexed history of nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project to present-day proliferation. Disarmament campaigns get their due, but the author also argues that talk of arms reduction became futile once nations had accepted 'the mad giant of deterrence.'
— Chris Jozefowicz
Financial Times
Gerard DeGroot's history of the weapon that transformed the world after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 looks at its scientific development, the devastating consequences of its use and the strange ways it burrowed into popular imagination.
Focus
DeGroot's explanation of how the world got itself into a blackly surreal situation where there were perhaps 15 minutes between business as usual, and countless miles of burning rubble populated by millions of charred corpses is one of the best to appear so far. The book covers both the science of the bomb as well as its politics, and how the semi-rationality of escalation took on a life of its own...This is one of the most insightful books on the subject ever written--an effortlessly readable but quite terrifying modern classic.
— Richard Wentk
Glasgow Herald
Gerard DeGroot has written a lively and thought-provoking history of the nuclear bomb. It is, inevitably, a dark and scary book, but it is not without moments of grisly comedy.
— Harry Reid
History News Network
This is a succinct, lucid and reliable survey which begins with Ernest Rutherford who, in 1910, postulated that atoms had nuclei, and concludes with the impact of the 9/11 attacks on theories of thermonuclear deterrence and pre-emption...This is a surprisingly evenhanded, fair, and judicious account which develops a number of significant themes...The Bomb: A Life is a beautifully written synthesis...It deserves to be widely read.
Irish Times
This fascinating account charts [the Bomb's] short but devastating rise from theoretical possibility to malevolent ubiquity. From the febrile atmosphere of the physics labs to the Cuban missile crisis and beyond, this portrait of man's most Promethean invention is consistently gripping.
Literary Review
Thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and irradiated by a wry sense of humour and a (mostly) well-restrained anger, [DeGroot's] biography of the bomb is absolutely gripping. It cannot fail to be given that every chapter in the story makes for powerful narrative, and is rich in exotic characters: Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Harry S. Truman, Stalin, Beria, John F. Kennedy, and more...Gerard DeGroot has marshaled the facts about the bomb's history from early atomic science onwards--concentrating mainly on the period up to the 1960s--with great skill and elegance. This is a book crammed with information, but so beautifully arranged that one scarcely notices what a complete education it purveys. It ends with a very just evaluation of what the existence of the bomb says about the flawed nature of human beings: their mutual distrust, their power hunger, their propensity to be impressed by anything big...It is...inevitable that the number of weapons, and their availability, will result in their use again. Our sensibilities on this score have gone to sleep: this outstanding book ought to wake them up again with a very loud bang.
— A. C. Grayling
Material Culture
This very balanced history of nuclear weaponry, a straightforward chronology, should be required reading at every college and university, to promote some national introspection.
— Roger Chapman
San Francisco Chronicle
A skillfully condensed narrative of the nuclear era, fascinating in the selection of details and riveting in its revelations of how possessing nuclear weapons changed those involved, and changed America.
— William S. Kowinski
Scotland on Sunday
Gerard DeGroot's superb 'biography' of mankind's most terrible weapons does something that has rarely, if ever, been attempted. Bringing together the scientific, political, cultural and historical threads, he looks at the Manhattan Project and its rivals in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia; and he widens the net to take in the efforts of Britain, France and other members--official or not--of the nuclear club. Ranging from atomic physics to rock 'n' roll, the result is a book that is pacey, readable and enormously wide-ranging...This is a book that really makes you think, as well as being hugely entertaining. I have read many books about different aspects of this enormous subject, but none that brings the diverse pieces together so well, in such an absorbing and truly masterly way.
— Andrew Crumey
Socialist Review
DeGroot's fascinating book is a history of the nuclear bomb, the scientists who worked on it, the politicians who armed themselves with it and the lies told to justify its existence...There is much to recommend about this book...This is a fascinating work that will help educate a new generation of anti-war campaigners to the consequences of nuclear war, as well as reminding us all that Blair and Bush aren't the first leaders to threaten death on an enormous scale.
— Martin Empson
Sunday Telegraph
DeGroot makes full use of newly available material from Russia, and the gripping story of the invention and building of the bomb, spiced with wartime strategic manoeuvring, scientific intrigues and espionage, has never been better told.
— George Walden
The Independent
DeGroot's study is profound and rich in detail. His extensive narrative is captivating.
— Henning Hoff
The Scotsman
DeGroot's remorselessly even-handed study of his subject leaves little room for complacency. It is scant satisfaction to those of us of a certain age to learn that the Cuban Missile Crisis really was that bad. If Kennedy had listened to Curtis LeMay and his Pentagon colleagues, Cuba would have been the trigger for an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union...Kennedy took other advice, Kruschev withdrew, and all we Bomb Age teenagers survived to buy another Beatles record. But it was close. And, as we realised by the end of this excellent book, it still is.
— Roger Hutchinson
The Tablet
DeGroot...has written an interesting and informative book. It is easy to read, full of detail about the personalities involved, and written in a way that need not terrify non-physicists...The photographs bring on both nostalgia and amazement...Interesting, provoking and even entertaining in a gruesome way, this book is a valuable addition to the nuclear library.
— Bruce Kent
USA Today
This year brings the 60th anniversary of those two terrifying days in August 1945 when we learned to love and hate the atomic bomb. To mark the milestone, there's no better read than The Bomb: A Life, a wry biography of the weapon that made humankind think about the end of the world. University of St. Andrews history professor Gerard DeGroot reveals everything you ever wanted to know about nuclear weapons, including things you were too terrified to ask. And he has fun doing it...The beauty of DeGroot's work is his knack for the telling detail. In his effort to portray the nuclear arms race as a crazed competition that didn't have to be in 1945 but couldn't be avoided 10 years later, he doesn't let the documentary evidence stifle the story.
— Michael Jacobs
Washington Post Book World
Our post-Sept. 11 country should find The Bomb's story enlightening. Gerard J. DeGroot has done more than write the best single-volume history of the bomb's early life in the original nuclear family: the United States, the Soviet Union, and their British, French, and Chinese offspring. He has also narrated themes that run through this generation and perhaps the next. As characters move across the page--Oppenheimer, Teller, Sakharov, Truman, Churchill, Stalin, de Gaulle, Mao, LeMay, Reagan and Gorbachev--one sees that the dangers these men created and confronted resemble the current dramas of terrorism, proliferation and military intervention...The most troubling part of the nuclear story is the way leaders rationalize their willingness to use doomsday weapons--and to blur the just-war distinction between legitimate military targets and innocent civilians...DeGroot tells his story fairly and fluently.
— George Perkovich
Word
If The Bomb is a book about fear, and the dreadful lengths to which it can drive people, it is equally one about naiveté. Nobody fully understood what they were unleashing on the people of Hiroshima...DeGroot is a gripping, accessible narrator...who doesn't duck his subject's many moral conundrums.
— Dorian Lynskey
George Perkovich
Gerard J. DeGroot has done more than write the best single-volume history of the bomb's early life in the original nuclear family: the United States, the Soviet Union, and their British, French and Chinese offspring. He has also narrated themes that run through this generation and perhaps the next. As characters move across the page -- Oppenheimer, Teller, Sakharov, Truman, Churchill, Stalin, de Gaulle, Mao, LeMay, Reagan and Gorbachev -- one sees that the dangers these men created and confronted resemble the current dramas of terrorism, proliferation and military intervention.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
It is by now an overly familiar story: a hitherto complacent American military is spurred into action by terrifying intelligence of Nazi scientific advances and fear that Hitler will have an atomic bomb first. Then come heroic counterefforts by the dedicated Allied scientists of the Manhattan Project, the dizzying intoxication of victory, the unimaginably bleak and sobering "morning after" reality of massive devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, nuclear weapons proliferation, brinkmanship and strategic stalemate. And always the great unanswerable question, why? In a briskly entertaining and compulsively readable "life" of the atom bomb, DeGroot, a professor of history at Scotland's University of St. Andrews, never finds a unique angle of insight into his subject. Is he correct in suggesting that the "really big decisions" about the bomb were made "by around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis"? It seems a rather slender reed upon which to build a full-scale biography, one that focuses heavily on the 1950s, which DeGroot sees as more important historically than "the endless talk over SALT and START" of later decades. Readers who have scant familiarity with the topic will find this account (which goes through the post-Cold War era) balanced and accessible. Anyone searching for fresh insights or a deeper, more nuanced interpretation will continue searching. 23 b&w photos. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Nuclear weapons haunted life throughout the second half of the 20th century, playing an integral role in the Cold War. DeGroot (modern history, Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland) here draws on many sources to produce an easy-to-read account of that anxious time. Though primarily a work of political, military, and diplomatic history, this book also offers sections on how (mostly Western) society adapted to the threat of possibly quick, massive destruction. Details about the bomb's early development and first use are well known, but it is interesting to learn what was happening in other countries as they responded by trying to build a bomb or at least adapt their thinking. What is horrifying is the widespread self-delusion or lack of understanding regarding the bomb's destructive potential among both governments and civilians. While the possibility of state-sponsored global nuclear war seems to have receded, the bomb continues to threaten life as a potential terrorist weapon. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Did we ever learn to love the bomb? Perhaps not, this opinionated and lively history shows. Historian DeGroot (Modern History/Univ. of St. Andrews) opens, fittingly, with a funeral, a "row of tiny coffins" commemorating the deaths of eighteen small children killed by a German Gotha bomber. The children weren't meant to be sacrificed, of course, but the German bomb had been dropped on London in 1917 with the intent of killing someone, and whether civilian or military didn't much matter. Fast-forward to Hiroshima, with the same effect: "The Americans didn't intend to hit a hospital, but they did intend to kill people." So it was with the postwar bomb: the world knew that civilian, child, innocent, and suchlike categories no longer mattered, and if the bomb was not going to adjust for us, we were going to have to adjust for the bomb. DeGroot writes with a smartly revisionist, sometimes acid sensibility: Werner Heisenberg may have protested that he worked for the Nazis only unwillingly, but if "he only pretended to collaborate, he did so with great enthusiasm." Albert Einstein was a poster boy for the bomb, but the real engine behind it was Leo Szilard. Ironically enough, Japan had a nuclear-weapons program of its own; after Hiroshima, the General Staff told the nation's leading atomic scientist that the military would try to hold out for six months if he could build a bomb to use against the Americans in that amount of time. Nagasaki was an accident, the victim of a too-stiff Japanese resistance over the intended target. In the postwar era, Britain pushed to develop a bomb because it was cheaper than maintaining a massive army, a cousin of thought to Robert McNamara's theory of peace throughmutually assured destruction. And so on over seven decades, in a narrative characterized by an odd amiability and even hopefulness-even though, as DeGroot notes, the shadow of the bomb falls on us still. A splendid distillation of nuclear history, and just the thing for students of the modern age. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674017245
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerard J. DeGroot is Professor of Modern History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. His many books include The First World War and A Noble Cause?: America and the Vietnam War.

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Table of Contents

Preface viii
List of Abbreviations xii
List of Illustrations xiv
1 Killing is Easy 1
2 Neutrons and Nations 8
3 Born in Manhattan 33
4 It's a Boy! 56
5 Decisions 66
6 Genshi Bakudan 82
7 Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants 106
8 On a Russian Scale 126
9 Embracing Armageddon 148
10 To Little Boy, a Big Brother 162
11 The New Look 184
12 Symbols, not Weapons 217
13 Testing Times 237
14 To the Brink 253
15 How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 272
16 Mid-Life Crisis 304
17 Fallout 327
Notes 353
Select Bibliography 370
Index 377
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2005

    Open your eyes, see the light, you will be blinded !

    Imagine you are the parent of Napoleon, Hitler and Gengis Kahn. You arent even close to imagining the destruction that Science has yet to give birth to. KABOOM ! Learn how close the planet has come to complete annihilation. If the bomb explodes the fascists have won.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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