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.
|Publisher:||The University of North Carolina Press|
|Edition description:||Second Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.37(d)|
About 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.
What People are Saying About This
A highly perceptive, well-researched, and eloquent, often passionate, account.American Historical Review
Sobering. . . . [A] rich and disturbing chronicle.Newsweek
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In By The Bomb¿s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, Paul Boyer explores the social developments in the United States contemporaneous with the dropping of the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Although Boyer frequently mentions the political effects of the universally feared weapon, he maintains a primarily cultural approach to historiography throughout the work, first published in 1985. It encapsulates a cultural history of the United States from the news of Hiroshima in August of 1945 until the beginning of the 1950s.Fear and confusion, the two predominant reactions that arose in American public life as a result of the bomb, are analyzed and interpreted in a cultural context as well as from a political point-of-view throughout the book. These two sentiments of fear and confusion are the main themes, which Boyer returns to frequently. The author¿s detached style of cultural analysis is consistent throughout the work, but he admits that his interest in the subject is personal. In the book¿s introduction, he confesses that he believes that his own consciousness has been shaped acutely by the bomb¿s existence.The chapters in By The Bomb¿s Early Light are incredibly detailed and effectively describe exactly what was going on in American public life at the end of the 1940s. In ¿The Political Agenda of the Scientists¿ Movement,¿ for example, he recalls the experiences and beliefs of the most prominent atomic scientists. Where appropriate, he clearly differentiates the privately expressed beliefs from those that are publicly espoused. Boyer highlights the fluidity of the public¿s collective conscience with keen insight. He pays careful attention to chronology while showing how shifts in public opinion tended to correlate with changes in intellectual advocacy of the One World Government movement. Later, he shows how the public could be even more acutely swayed by the denouncement of this agenda by well-respected establishment politicians.His analysis of American cultural life in the atomic age is not limited to quantitative shifts in public opinion. The qualitative changes are presented more plentifully in subsequent chapters. ¿Optimistic Forecasts¿ and ¿Darker Social Visions¿ contrast the different attitudes toward future possibilities relating to atomic energy. Boyer recalls how Arthur H. Compton idealized the Manhattan Project as one of the ¿greatest human adventures of all time¿ and referred to the project¿s racially diverse workforce as a victory over the Nazis and their repudiation of ¿Jewish science¿. Virgil Jordan¿s Manifesto for the Atomic Age (1946) is summarized as a work in which fears of centralized government control are profoundly expressed. Boyer presents a wide array of radically differing contemporary opinions on atomic energy. His detached scholarly approach works well because he understands that the reader ¿ with a better historical hindsight perhaps - is fully capable of evaluating their merits.Boyer¿s history of post-Hiroshima America is highly recommended for cultural historians and American historians alike. Those who have a more keen interest in political history may find the book tedious and redundant. The few times that the author does bring up facts with political interest ¿ such as how the fear of the bomb was channeled by political figures into the Red Scare, he treats the notion as a closing thought for a chapter rather than as a theory to be explored. The author uses his chapters as a means to separate topics and they often overlap. It is sometimes difficult for the reader to keep up with the dozens of politicians and intellectual figures that he weaves into his narrative. The reader can lose track of the fact that they¿ve been introduced at all! By The Bomb¿s Early Light is a rich cultural history that fills the void of a theme often neglected in broad American history narratives.
i love this book. readable, approachable, and meaningful for any audience, from the novice hostorian to the veteran political scientist.