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An account of the remarkable scientists who discovered that nuclear fission was possible and then became concerned about its implications. Index. Translated by James Cleugh.
The story of the nuclear bombs and of the rivalries, struggles, and triumphs of the scientists who made them.
Posted July 16, 2006
Recently, in theatres in London and New York, the public was treated to the drama ¿Copenhagen,¿ by British playwright Michael Frayn, and it revisited the theme of this now old book. The play was about a visit in September 1941 by the then young German physicist Werner Heisenberg to his mentor and dear friend Niels Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark. So a detail in a bigger picture, but still a key detail! The wider subject of Robert Jungk¿s book is a biographical sketch of the pioneers in nuclear physics, the individual scientist who built the atomic bomb (the time before Hiroshima and Nagasaki), or whose theories were instrumental. The debate about the history, the science, and its implications of the nuclear bomb started after World War II, and it is important to remember that nuclear scientists worked on both sides of this conflicts. Now with hindsight, the Cold War, and nuclear proliferation have taken centre stage, but back in 1956 when Robert Jungk¿s book first appeared, World War II was still casting a big shadow on events and on the debate about nuclear deterrence. In my opinion Robert Jungk¿s book was one of the first serious attempts at a general account on what was clearly a watershed in history, a series of events that are shaping our lives even today. Since 1956, Robert Jungk¿s book was reprinted many times, and many more related books appeared. Jungk¿s book is interesting in that it paints a vivid portrait of such scientists as Robert Oppenheimer, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and other leading physicists at the time, and on both sides of that conflict. What is interesting now is to view Robert Jungk¿s book in the light of Michael Frayn¿s play, and especially in light of newly released papers on the Niels Bohr archives in 2002, following the wide attention given to Michael Frayn¿s version of the 1941 meeting in Copenhagen. The 2002 addition to Niels Bohr¿s archives is a deposit comprising documents either dictated or written by Niels Bohr referring to what was said at the fateful 1941 meeting. Michael Frayn¿s play makes it clear that the two Bohr and Heisenberg were very close both scientifically and personally, and that the 1941 meeting changed all of that. Both men were devastated! Heisenberg was a leading scientific advisor to the German government in post WWII Europe and yet he spent the rest of his life attempting to put his spin on his war work his work on a nuclear bomb for Hitler, or perhaps rather denying these efforts. Niels Bohr who died in 1962 had been extraordinarily tight lipped about his meeting with Heisenberg in 1941. So while the newly released letters supplement and confirm previously published statements of Bohr's recollections of the meeting, especially those of his son, Aage Bohr, this part of the story is not well known, and especially not to Robert Jungk. The letters are from Niels Bohr to Heisenberg, and they are interesting for many reasons, not least of which is that they were never mailed, and so their contents were never known to Heisenbrg. Quoting from one of Bohr¿s letters to Heisenberg: ¿--- I think that I owe it to you to tell you that I am greatly amazed to see how much your memory has deceived you in your letter to the author [Robert Jungk] of the book [¿Brighter than a thousand suns¿],---.¿ Review by Palle Jorgensen, July 2006.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.