The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1949 [NOOK Book]

Overview

Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI6's Farm Hall transcripts, coded soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the soviet archives.

Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a dramatic narrative ...

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The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1949

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Overview

Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI6's Farm Hall transcripts, coded soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the soviet archives.

Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a dramatic narrative that spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to the aftermath of 'Joe-1,’ August 1949's first Soviet atomic bomb test.
Why did physicists persist in developing the atomic bomb, despite the devastation that it could bring?
Why, despite having a clear head start, did Hitler's physicists fail? Could the soviets have developed the bomb without spies like Klaus Fuchs or Donald Maclean? Did the allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb program? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race?
The First War of Physics is a grand and frightening story of scientific ambition, intrigue, and genius: a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dobbs
The basic elements of this story have been told many times before, of course. Readers familiar with the standard works on the subject will find little that is new or particularly startling in The First War of Physics…That said, this 576-page history provides an excellent introduction to a vast and complicated topic. By examining the competition among America, Russia and Germany, it knits together developments on different sides of the Atlantic into a brisk, exciting and comprehensive narrative.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
Gen. Leslie Groves wrote a history of the Manhattan Project in 1962 (Now It Can Be Told), Richard Rhodes won a Pulitzer for his 1988 The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and this timeless story continues to be the subject of various recent books (e.g., Diana Preston's Before the Fallout and Amir D. Aczel's Uranium Wars). What distinguishes this account of the creation of the bomb is its equal emphasis on science and politics. Bolstered by access to previously classified American and Soviet documents, science writer Baggott depicts the massive scientific undertaking against the backdrop of wartime geopolitics, espionage, uneasy alliances, and the start of the Cold War. Many of the key players here are physicists, of course, but there are also diplomats, generals, intelligence officers, and investigative journalists. VERDICT The first "war" of physics was a race with very high stakes. Baggott contributes a novel perspective to the story, looking at the Anglo-American, German, and Soviet atomic programs, and as such provides a broad thematic history.—Gregg Sapp, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, WA
Publishers Weekly
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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605981451
  • Publisher: Pegasus
  • Publication date: 3/31/2006
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 921,258
  • File size: 938 KB

Meet the Author

Jim Baggott is an award-winning science writer. A former academic chemist, he maintains a broad interest in science, philosophy, and history, and writes on these subjects for New Scientist and other journals. His books have been widely acclaimed and include A Beginner's Guide to Reality
(Pegasus, 2006), The First War of Physics (Pegasus, 2010), The Meaning of Quantum Physics (Oxford, 1992), and Beyond Measure Modern Physics, Philosophy, and the Meaning of Quantum Theory (Oxford, 2004). He lives in England.
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 6, 2010

    A Sadly, Badly Flawed Study

    This is a history written by an anti-nuclear activist. Author Baggot has clearly let his virulent bias ('How did they come.to know sin?') influence his scholarship. Scientifically, the book may offer worthwhile technical insights. Attitudinally, it does not seem to be completely connected to reality. Pointing to the Truman administration's discussions about the use of the atomic bomb on Japan, the book consistently supports a Pollyanna-ish view of world powers (vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, for example) that is out of touch with reality. The author also inserts bias where none may exist. For example (page 305), 'If growing moral qualms affected any of the members of the Interim Committee, they are not reflected in the notes of the meeting.' This is like reporting the news for parrots - none were killed in the traffic accident on the M5. Tellingly, the author reports that there was little celebration among the atomic scientists on Tinian. The news of Japan's surrender 'was received quite soberly.' While all around them Army Air Force flyers were celebrating because they knew what awful casualties would have been suffered if the Allies had had to invade Japan. 'There are about three million men whose main desire in life was to get back home.' This 'secret history of the atom bomb' would have been easier to read - and swallow - without the attitude.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 3, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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