The Hell Bomb

The Hell Bomb

by William L. Laurence

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In April 1945, Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. science journalist William L. Laurence was summoned to the secret Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico by General Leslie Groves to serve as the official historian of the Manhattan Project. In this capacity he also served as author of many of the first official press releases about nuclear weapons, including some delivered by the Department of War and President Harry S. Truman. Laurence was the only journalist present at the Trinity test in July 1945, and beforehand prepared statements to be delivered in case the test ended in a disaster which killed those involved. As part of his work related to the Project, he also interviewed the airmen who flew on the mission to drop the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Laurence himself flew aboard the B-29 The Great Artiste, which served as a blast instrumentation aircraft, for the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. He visited the Test Able site at Bikini Atoll aboard the press ship, ‘Appalachian,’ for the bomb test on July 1, 1946.

In his book The Hell Bomb, Laurence warns about the use of a cobalt bomb—a form of hydrogen bomb that, at the time of first publication in 1951, was still an untested device—which was engineered to produce a maximum amount of nuclear fallout.

“I FIRST heard about the hydrogen bomb in the spring of 1945 in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where our scientists were putting the finishing touches on the model-T uranium, or plutonium, fission bomb. I learned to my astonishment that, in addition to this work, they were already considering preliminary designs for a hydrogen-fusion bomb, which in their lighter moments they called the “Super-duper” or just the “Super.”

“I can still remember my shock and incredulity when I first heard about it […]. Could anything be more powerful, I found myself thinking, than a weapon that, on paper at least, promised to release an explosive force of 20,000 tons of TNT?....”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781789120394
Publisher: Eschenburg Press
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 113
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

William Leonard Laurence (March 7, 1888 - March 19, 1977) was a Jewish Lithuanian-born American journalist known for his science journalism writing of the 1940s and 1950s while working for The New York Times. He won two Pulitzer Prizes and, as the official historian of the Manhattan Project, was the only journalist to witness the Trinity test and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. He is credited with coining the iconic term “Atomic Age” which became popular in the 1950s.

He was born Leib Wolf Siew in Salantai (Russian Empire, now Lithuania) and emigrated to the U.S. in 1905, after participating in the Russian Revolution of 1905. He attended Harvard University, Harvard Law School, and Boston University, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1913. During World War I, he served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and in 1919 attended the University of Besançon in France.

In 1926 he began his career as a journalist, working for The World of New York City. In 1930 he began working at The New York Times, specializing where possible in reporting on scientific issues. He married Florence Davidow in 1931.

In 1934, Laurence co-founded the National Association of Science Writers. In 1936 he covered the Harvard Tercenary Conference of Arts and Sciences, and he and four other science reporters received the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Reporting. For his 1945 coverage of the atomic bomb, beginning with the eyewitness account from Nagasaki, he won a second Pulitzer Prize for Reporting in 1946. He published an account of the Trinity test that same year, Dawn Over Zero, and continued to work at the Times through the 1940s and 1950s. Two further books followed in 1950 and 1951. In 1956, he was present at the testing of a hydrogen bomb at the Pacific Proving Grounds. That same year, he also became appointed Science Editor of the New York Times and served in this capacity until he retired in 1964.

Laurence died in 1977 in Majorca, Spain, aged 89.

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