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Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima

Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima

4.4 15
by Stephen Walker

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A riveting, minute-by-minute account of the momentous event that changed our world forever

On a quiet Monday morning in August 1945, a five-ton bomb—dubbed Little Boy by its creators—was dropped from an American plane onto the Japanese city of Hiroshima. On that day, a firestorm of previously unimagined power was


A riveting, minute-by-minute account of the momentous event that changed our world forever

On a quiet Monday morning in August 1945, a five-ton bomb—dubbed Little Boy by its creators—was dropped from an American plane onto the Japanese city of Hiroshima. On that day, a firestorm of previously unimagined power was unleashed on a vibrant metropolis of 300,000 people, leaving one third of its population dead, its buildings and landmarks incinerated. It was the terrifying dawn of the Atomic Age, spawning decades of paranoia, mistrust, and a widespread and very real fear of the potential annihilation of the human race.

Author Stephen Walker brilliantly re-creates the three terrible weeks leading up to the wartime detonation of the atomic bomb—from the first successful test in the New Mexico desert to the cataclysm and its aftermath—presenting the story through the eyes of pilots, scientists, civilian victims, and world leaders who stood at the center of earth-shattering drama. It is a startling, moving, frightening, and remarkable portrait of an extraordinary event—a shockwave whose repercussions can be felt to this very day.

Editorial Reviews

On August 6, 1945, at 9:15 in the morning, the world changed forever. From an altitude of 40,000 feet, a B-29 Superfortress dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The impact was devastating: 47,000 buildings and over 100,000 people were almost instantaneously obliterated. Stephen Walker's Shockwave recounts the human side of the countdown to the defining moment of the 20th century.
Publishers Weekly
The pace of Walker's narrative replicates the frantic advance of August 1945. BBC filmmaker Walker won an Emmy for his documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima and brings precision jump-cuts to this synesthesic account of the 20th century's defining event. Beginning his story three weeks before August 6 (with the first test of a bomb some of its creators speculated might incinerate the earth's atmosphere), Walker takes readers on a roller-coaster ride through the memories of American servicemen, Japanese soldiers and civilians, and the polyglot team of scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project under Gen. Leslie Groves. He establishes the doubts, fears and hopes of the bomb's designers, most of whom participated from a fear that Nazi Germany would break the nuclear threshold first. He nicely retells the story of Japan's selection months before as a target, reflecting the accelerated progress of the war in Europe, and growing concern among U.S. policymakers at the prospect of unthinkable casualties, Japanese as well as American, should an invasion of Japan's "Home Islands" be necessary. Walker conveys above all the bewilderment of Hiroshima's people, victims of a Japanese government controlled by men determined to continue fighting at all costs. Shockwave's depiction of the consequences invite comparison with John Hershey's still-classic Hiroshima. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Walker (King of Cannes: Madness, Mayhem and the Movies) here commemorates the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945). In the past six decades, much has been written about the atomic bombs used on Japan and about the Manhattan Project that developed them. However, Walker, a documentary filmmaker for the BBC, breathes new life into this story by narrowing the focus to the brief weeks between the first successful test detonation and the bombing of Hiroshima. This approach lends a rapid pace and cinematic air to the narrative, which is further enhanced by the use of dialog. Walker also forgoes concentrating on only the most famous actors in this drama, such as President Truman, instead examining the roles and thoughts of the secretary of war, several of the project technicians, the pilots and crews, and a multitude of the citizens of Hiroshima. Set against the backdrop of the Potsdam Conference and the final days of war, Walker's narrative is consistently interesting while also correcting many of the myths long surrounding those horrible days of August that signaled the beginning of a new era. Highly recommended.-Brian DeLuca, Avon Lake P.L., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A superb account of the development of the bomb that destroyed a Japanese city with the heat of ten suns. BBC film director Walker writes with a sense of urgency and high drama as he recounts the years-long effort to build an atomic bomb secretly, an effort doomed from the start thanks to the presence of Klaus Fuchs, Stalin's man inside Los Alamos. What Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe and company concocted at the cost of ulcers, alcoholism, broken marriages and other stresses has, of course, been the subject of many books before. Few writers, though, have taken the time to notice that the prototype bomb resembled "a giant gobstopper" and was made up in part of Scotch tape and Johnson's baby powder, or observed that the bomber Enola Gay was named after its commander's mother, or pointed out that Leslie Groves, the secretive boss of the Manhattan Project, was also the man who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon, a luminous detail that speaks volumes. Walker depicts a Japanese leadership torn in the last days of the war by a division between those determined to fight to the last child and a peace faction that made overtures to the Soviet Union to convince America to drop its demand for unconditional surrender; the USSR, not yet at war with Japan, did not bother to reply, Walker notes, for there was no gain to be had in doing a favor for the beaten nation. At the same time, some scientists who had been working on the bomb, notably Enrico Fermi, feared that the entire world would be destroyed if the thing were ever set off. It was, at first, as Walker notes, against a city that, though a legitimate military target, appears to have been chosen for destruction for reasons of psychologicaleffect: "Hiroshima's pristine condition," writes Walker, "virtually guaranteed the weapon's initial use would be spectacular."So it was, and the world has been haunted ever since. An engrossing, saddening reconstruction of events, marking the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima's incineration.
(Grade: A-) - Entertainment Weekly
"Dramatic ... an important page-turner ... admirably evenhanded and smoothly written."
Booklist (starred review)
“Uniquely readable, immediate, and human . . . an exceptionally taut and revealing chronicle.”
Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-)
“Dramatic ... an important page-turner ... admirably evenhanded and smoothly written.”
Arizona Republic
“Like John Hersey’s HIROSHIMA, SHOCKWAVE brings to life one of history’s most profound events. Don’t miss it.”
Raleigh News & Observer
“Gripping...takes us back to 1945, allowing readers to appreciate the spectacular scientific effort that created this tool of doom.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A meticulous, emotionally devastating portrait of both sides … [Walker] creates an arresting feeling of suspense.”
Chicago Tribune
“Electrifying . . .The tension and concentration of Walker’s thriller-like prose elicits a visceral response.”
Irish Times
“Shockwave is a stunning book, among the most immediate and thrilling works of history I have ever read.”
Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A-)
“Dramatic ... an important page-turner ... admirably evenhanded and smoothly written.”
"Uniquely readable, immediate, and human . . . an exceptionally taut and revealing chronicle."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt


Countdown to Hiroshima
By Stephen Walker

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Stephen Walker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060742844

Chapter One

Sunday, July 15, 9 P.M.
Trinity Test Site,
Forty Miles South of Socorro, New Mexico

Don Hornig stared up at the tower. The wind and rain whipped through the steel latticework. The storm that had been building throughout the day had finally erupted in all its fury. Flashes of lightning lit the San Andres mountains to the south, and the desert echoed with the growl of thunder. The tower loomed 103 feet above Hornig's head, a network of black braces and girders reaching upward like a giant electric pylon. By now the clouds were racing so low across the sky, he could barely see the top. Which was just as well, really. He did not want to think about what was at the top.

He began to climb. The wet steel slipped between his fingers and the rain stung his eyes, making it difficult to see. He wore no safety harness. Rung by rung, he pulled himself up the ladder. It was slow going, but he was only twenty-four, and the long Sunday rides over the Pajarito mountain trails near Los Alamos kept him fit. Once or twice he stopped, and he could see the guards below him looking up, like ants on the desert floor. They seemed a long way down.

At the top of the tower, a simple corrugated tin shack rested on a square wooden platform. It was a flimsy, cheaply made structure, obviously not designed to last. It was not much bigger than a garden shed. One of its walls was open to the elements. Hornig stepped off the ladder beside it, pausing by the entrance. A huge, dimly discernible shape crouched inside. There was a bare sixty-watt bulb hanging from the roof. Hornig switched it on and peered inside.

Hulking on a cradle was a metallic-gray, bloated, four-ton steel drum, and it took up almost every inch of space in the shack. Even by day it would have looked ominous, but it looked especially so now with the wind whipping the tin walls, and the dim bulb swaying from the ceiling, and the lightning and thunder edging nearer. A fantastic complex of cables sprouted from its sides like a spillage of guts or arteries, as if it were somehow not inert at all but actually organic, a growing, living, autonomous embryo, awaiting the moment of its birth. Perhaps in acknowledgment of its essence, its creators had even given it a name. A number of names, in fact. They called it The Beast, The Gadget, The Thing, The Device. Sometimes they just called it It. The one thing nobody ever called it was what it actually was. The world's first atomic bomb.

Hornig squeezed down beside it. The rain pelted on the tin roof like a thousand hammer blows. The wind rattled the thin walls of the bomb's cage. In a few hours, a fellow scientist named Joe Mc-Kibben, standing in a concrete bunker exactly 10,000 yards to the south of this tower, would initiate the final act in what was almost certainly the biggest and most expensive scientific experiment in history. McKibben would press a switch on a panel that in turn would close an automatic timing circuit and begin a forty-five-second countdown. At the end of that time a number of different things could happen. The bomb could fail to go off. Or it could detonate with varying magnitudes of explosion. Or, as one Nobel Prize-winning scientist believed possible, it could set fire to the earth's atmosphere, in the process destroying all life on the planet. The difficulty was that nobody knew.

The only other object in the tin shack, besides an atomic bomb, was a telephone. It was Hornig's sole means of communication with the outside world. The lines ran down the tower and out through the desert to the control bunker. They were supposed to call him when it was time to come down, and he was supposed to call them if anything went wrong. That was the theory, at any rate. In practice, if anything did go wrong, there might not be much time to start making phone calls.

He had not asked for this job. It was a last-minute decision, made only a couple of hours earlier by the director of the bomb's laboratory, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was worried about pretty much everything that night, but right then one of his main concerns was security. He wanted somebody to go up there, babysit the bomb, keep a watchful eye on things. Maybe Hornig was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was an obvious choice. A brilliant Harvard-trained chemist, he had spent the early war years in New England researching underwater explosives. One day in 1943 his boss had called him into the office and told him he was wanted for a job so secret, not even his boss had a clue what it was. Within days, Hornig had sold his beautiful forty-five-foot yacht Siesta, bought himself a secondhand 1937 Ford Coupe, and together with his twenty-year-old wife, Lilli, an equally brilliant German Jewish refugee whom he had met in a chemistry course at Harvard, headed out west. Their destination was a place he had never heard of. It was called Los Alamos, a secret laboratory in the high mesas northwest of Santa Fe, where they were building very special bombs.

Over the next two years, Hornig designed a wondrously complex piece of equipment called the X-unit. Essentially the bomb's electric trigger, it would, at the requisite time, send a five-and-a-half- thousand-volt charge to sixty-four detonators arranged in geometric patterns around the bomb's sphere, like cloves stuck in an apple. Of course, if anything went wrong with the X-unit, there would be no firing charge, no detonation, no explosion ...


Excerpted from Shockwave by Stephen Walker Copyright © 2005 by Stephen Walker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Walker directed the award-winning feature film Prisoners in Time (starring John Hurt) and wrote and directed an Emmy Award–winning BBC documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

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Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Shockwave is a book I think every American needs to read at least once in their lifetime. Not only does this book fascinate the senses, it also gives you the cold, hard facts. The author of Shockwave, Stephen Walker, does not shy away from the implausible truth about the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. This book does not skip a beat. It covers each and every imperative detail. From the events leading up to the bombing and the preparation, to the dropping of the atomic bomb and the effects of its magnitude, Stephen Walker combined all of the facts to write an extraordinary book that is unquestionably a book that every person should read. After seeing many documentaries in class, I thought I understood the aptitude of the atomic bomb. I was wrong. I never realized just how powerful the bomb was until I started reading this informative book. I can¿t put into words how meaningful this book was and how much of an impact it had on me. I couldn¿t help but put myself in place of the many people that were involved. I found myself asking the same questions over and over. How did the scientists feel when deep inside, they knew that this ¿thing¿ they were making would destroy hundreds of thousands of human lives? What did the workforce think when they had no idea, not even a clue about what this beast they were creating could do or what effect it would make, or if it could even make an effect, and why some couldn¿t even have contact with their families. How in the world was Don Hornig able to sit on the top of a 103-foot tower accompanying the atomic bomb on the test site in a thunderstorm when he knew that if a bolt of lightening struck the tower, he would be dead? What made President Truman think that something so prevailing, something powerful enough to end the war, would even compare to a quarter of a million lives, gone? These questions and more were answered in this exceptionally well-written book. This book answers all of the questions you have over the atomic bomb, Hiroshima, and much, much more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The feeling one gets on finishing this book is that man learns nothing whatever from history. The author takes no stand on who is wrong or right, but we know how it is going to end and there is an awful inevitability, yet a fascination on the how and why, the thoughts of those who created the atomic bomb and the final wreckage and reckoning is more than humans ought to bear.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stephen Walker's style of literally counting down to Hiroshima gives the reader a sense of urgency, watching from the sidelines of the present day, as people in Hiroshima live their lives blissfully unaware of Trinity, complications, politics, changes of hearts, and dedication to the last. Walker also does a very good job at keeping the book unbiased, and lets the facts and photos remain untainted by his personal opinion on the matter, leaving the reader to judge what they think of this historic event. The book also has high rereading value; I have just read it for the third time since I discovered it, and plan to read it many more times in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of the most suspenseful books of history I have ever read even though I knew the final outcome. The arming of the bomb in flight is one of the most harrowing things you can ever imagine! Make no mistake about it these guys were heros.
WordPA More than 1 year ago
Everyone one should read this book. We won the War!! but at what cost to innocent people. Those who think we should bomb the Middle East have no concept of the consequences. How fortunate we are never to have had an international war on our shores. Brilliantly written and very sad at the same time.
Mr.Krinkle More than 1 year ago
Mr. Walker did an incredible job at detailing the events of what happened to Hiroshima in 1945. Describing who, what where and why. The author tells the story from conception to planning. Testing to transporting. And finally the big drop. In between you will find the specifics of the logistics. Assembling a team for the Manhattan Project. The bombs creators who then tried to stop its use. The man who pushed its use. Matters of security and spies. What the political leaders where doing and planning. The political climate was almost as if it were a game of chess. Churchill, Eisenhower, Stalin and Emporer Hirohito - all major players! What they knew and when. Some Japanese thought it would be "glorious" for Japan to die. Before during and after viewpoints of survivors. Stephen Walker interviews and researches from all angles. Japanese civilians and politicians, Allied leaders, the Manhattan Project leaders and key people. The secrecy and security of the bomb. It's risky trip across the Pacific. The crew of the Enola Gay, each persons job and a specific detailed account of how they did it. This book is recommended to anyone interested in the subject or whom may need to study it. I read it in about ten days. Would rate it higher, but I wanted to know MORE details of the Nagasaki bombing. The name should then be "...Countdown to Nagasaki" References of books are noted with an excellent bibliography for further research. Interviews and articles are noted as well.