By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture At the Dawn of the Atomic Age / Edition 2

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Originally published in 1985, By the Bomb's Early Light is the first book to explore the cultural 'fallout' in America during the early years of the atomic age. Paul Boyer argues that the major aspects of the long-running debates about nuclear armament and disarmament developed and took shape soon after the bombing of Hiroshima.

The book is based on a wide range of sources, including cartoons, opinion polls, radio programs, movies, literature, song lyrics, slang, and interviews with leading opinion-makers of the time. Through these materials, Boyer shows the surprising and profoundly disturbing ways in which the bomb quickly and totally penetrated the fabric of American life, from the chillingly prophetic forecasts of observers like Lewis Mumford to the Hollywood starlet who launched her career as the 'anatomic bomb.'

In a new preface, Boyer discusses recent changes in nuclear politics and attitudes toward the nuclear age.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Very well written. . . . Both far-ranging and thorough.—
From the Publisher
Sobering. . . . [A] rich and disturbing chronicle.


A highly perceptive, well-researched, and eloquent, often passionate, account.

American Historical Review

From the Publisher

Sobering. . . . [A] rich and disturbing chronicle.


A highly perceptive, well-researched, and eloquent, often passionate, account.

American Historical Review

Library Journal
Of the many books inspired by the 40-year anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, this certainly is one of the best. Boyer, an adept cultural historian, unravels the diverse reactions to the advent of the nuclear era between 1945 and 1950. The enormity of what had occurred caused disorientation among intellectuals and the general public alike. Basic beliefs wavered, contradictions emerged, and attitudes changed in a short period of time. Boyer traces scientific, literary, philosophical, and religious implications of the new weapon, revealing his own wit and commitment as well as historical skill. His neglect of the emergence of Abstract Expressionism as a major cultural response to the bomb stands as one of the few shortcomings in this fine, readable book. Highly recommended. Charles K. Piehl, Director of Grants Management, Mankato State Univ., Minn.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807844809
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/1994
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 765,450
  • Product dimensions: 6.19 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Boyer is Merle Curti Professor of History and director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 First Reactions 1
1 "The Whole World Gasped" 3
Pt. 2 Overture: The World-Government Movement 27
2 The Summons to Action 29
3 Atomic-Bomb Nightmares and World-Government Dreams 33
Pt. 3 The Atomic Scientists: From Bomb-Makers to Political Sages 47
4 The Political Agenda of the Scientists' Movement 49
5 "To the Village Square": The Public Agenda of the Scientists' Movement 59
6 The Uses of Fear 65
7 Representative Text: One World or None 76
8 The Mixed Message of Bikini 82
9 The Scientists' Movement in Eclipse 93
Pt. 4 Anodyne to Terror: Fantasies of a Techno-Atomic Utopia 107
10 Atomic Cars, Artificial Suns, Cancer-Curing Isotopes: The Search for a Silver Lining 109
11 Bright Dreams and Disturbing Realities: The Psychological Function of the Atomic-Utopia Visions 122
Pt. 5 The Social Implications of Atomic Energy: Prophecies and Prescriptions 131
12 Optimistic Forecasts 133
13 Darker Social Visions 141
14 Experts and Ideologues Offer Their Prescriptions 151
15 Social Science into the Breach 166
Pt. 6 The Crisis of Morals and Values 179
16 Justifications, Rationalizations, Evasions: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the American Conscience 181
17 "Victory for What?" - The Voice of the Minority 196
18 Atomic Weapons and Judeo-Christian Ethics: The Discourse Begins 211
19 Human Nature, Technological Man, the Apocalyptic Tradition 230
Pt. 7 Culture and Consciousness in the Early Atomic Era 241
20 Words Fail: The Bomb and the Literary Imagination 243
21 Visions of the Atomic Future in Science Fiction and Speculative Fantasy 257
22 Second Thoughts About Prometheus: The Atomic Bomb and Attitudes Toward Science 266
23 Psychological Fallout: Consciousness and the Bomb 275
Pt. 8 The End of the Beginning: Settling in for the Long Haul 289
24 Dagwood to the Rescue: The Campaign to Promote the "Peaceful Atom" 291
25 Secrecy and Soft Soap: Soothing Fears of the Bomb 303
26 The Reassuring Message of Civil Defense 319
27 1949-1950: Embracing the Bomb 334
Epilogue: From the H-Bomb to Star Wars: The Continuing Cycles of Activism and Apathy 352
Notes 369
Index 423
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