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Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-49 [Hardcover]

Jim Baggott
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Mar 2009
Rich in personality, action, confrontation and deception, "Atomic" is the first fully realised popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI6's FarmHall 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 monumental book 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 programme? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? "Atomic" is an epic story of science and technology at the very limits of human understanding; a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (5 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310447
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310445
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 175,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jim Baggott was born in Southampton, England. After graduating in chemistry and completing a doctorate at Oxford, he worked as a postgraduate research fellow at Oxford and at Stanford University in California.

He returned to England to take up a lectureship in chemistry at the University of Reading. After five years of academic life, he decided on a complete change of career direction and worked in the oil industry for 11 years before setting up his own independent business and training consultancy.

Jim maintains a broad interest in science, philosophy and history, and writes on these subjects in what spare time he can find. He was awarded the Marlow Medal by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1989 in recognition of his contributions to scientific research. He was awarded a Glaxo Science Writer's prize in 1992. He has written numerous popular science articles published in UK newspapers and New Scientist magazine and has contributed to several radio programmes in the UK and America. He made his television debut in an episode of Morgan Freeman's 'Through the Wormhole' science series, which aired on the Science Channel on 17 July 2013.

'Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the 'God Particle' - tells the story of the development of the standard model of particle physics and the role played by the Higgs field in the origin of mass. New Scientist remarked: '... his detailed explanation of how the Higgs mechanism gives particles mass is extremely elegant.' The book was published just five weeks after the announcement of the discovery of something that looks very much like the Higgs boson, at CERN on 4 July 2012. Popular Science said: '... the remarkable trick that Baggott and [the publisher] have pulled off is that the rush doesn't show. This is an excellent book throughout.' Professor Steven Weinberg, who won the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on unifying electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force, provides a foreword.

Jim's most recent book, titled Farewell to Reality: How Fairy-tale Physics Betrays the Search for Scientific Truth, promises to be rather controversial. It provides a timely and much needed antidote to the seemingly endless stream of metaphysics (or fairy-tale physics) that is promoted in the popular literature as science. Fairy-tale physics is a collection of theoretical constructions for which there is as yet no observational or experimental evidence. Such constructions include super-symmetric particles, superstrings, 'hidden' dimensions, the multiverse, the-universe-as-information, the holographic principle and the anthropic cosmological principle. The book was published in the UK by Constable & Robinson in May 2013. It is now available from Pegasus Books in the US.

Product Description

Review

I never read such a good, comprehensive account as Jim Baggott's... Highly recommended.' -- A.N. Wilson in the Reader's Digest

The best popular science book of the year to date by far (April 2009), this is an epic journey through the development of atomic power and the atom bomb during the second world war.
-- Brian Clegg, www.popularscience.co.uk

Review

The best popular science book of the year to date by far (April 2009), this is an epic journey through the development of atomic power and the atom bomb during the second world war.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Ghostgrey51 TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
The race for and the development of the Atom Bomb is something which tends to get hurried over in comprehensive accounts of World War II, usually because it's a very involved, complicated and for some writers a rather dry business, which is odd considering the impact of this weapon had. Jim Baggott is therefore to be congratulated for weaving into his book, character studies of those most closely involved; the personal interplays between them; the physics involved; the various dramas of the race to develop this most deadly of devices and the views of the military and political master overseeing the various national projects. The book is crammed with detail, contains a list of the principal characters, a chart with time lines comparing the progress of the UK, US, NAZI Germany and USSR, has footnotes on most pages and another series of notes relevant to each chapter at the end of the book. The style of writing is easy on the reader (although you might well have to read some of the physics information a few times-unless you are familiar with this aspect), and at times does read like a top of the range international thriller- not every factual book can claim to be entertaining as well as informative. His final words pack a punch; the beast of nuclear weaponry is still not dead as he makes reference to those states currently involved in building up a nuclear stockpile. Recommended for those interested in World War II, military and political history in general, and the development of nuclear weapons; also to those with a curiosity as to how these dread devices ever came into being.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This book, charting the history of the development of nuclear weapons, is a rattling good read with some memorable phrases. It provides an excellent, popular introduction to the subject, both the development of the weapons and the intrigues surrounding them. It is really amazing to realise that the bomb was developed intially as a result of fear of what the Nazis might do. we had to be first! But then the Nazis never did get near to actually making a weapon. The spy scandals - with naive people with communist sympathies giving secrets to the Soviets - is simply amazing. Just who did these people think Uncle Joe Stalin was? A defender of human rights? The few reservations come by the rather selective way some of the material is treated. And whereas some of the scientific development is laid out in detail, a few diagrams of the apparatus would have made things a lot clearer. And why is there no reason given as to why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were prime targets? But all in all, a good and informative book, well written and mostly exciting to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The nuclear arms race as a thriller 25 Nov 2009
By Nigel Seel VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Most people have opinions about the world's first atomic war. Was it really necessary to atom-bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did the Nazis really have a credible A-bomb programme? Could the Soviets really have built their A- and H-bombs without spying on the Americans?

Relying on newly opened archives, recently declassified material and compendious research, science-writer Jim Baggott addresses all these questions and more. Covering the ten year period from 1939 to 1949, Baggott introduces us to a cast of more than 300 characters: Americans, Canadians, British, Germans, Russians; scientists, politicians, spies, military men and assassins.

In lesser hands this could have ended up as 492 pages of hyper-detailed indigestible stodge: instead Baggott has made it into a thriller. He deftly cuts between the opposing camps as the race to achieve detonation moves from crisis to crisis. The result is a real page turner.

Here's another thing I liked about this book. It's conventional to portray the Los Alamos scientists under Oppenheimer as saintly, far-sighted humanists fighting an unwinnable war against the evil representatives of the US military-industrial complex. Baggott carries a refreshingly small amount of such `bleeding-heart liberal baggage', pointing out the naivety of such positions and the disasters which would have occurred had the US administration actually bought into the scientists' proposals. There is an extended epilogue which brings the story right up to 2008.

Readable it may be but the level of detail makes this book of interest chiefly to those with a special interest in the political struggles and organisational challenges attendant upon the transition to the atomic age. Such readers will be richly rewarded.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great read, not-so-great history. 18 Dec 2009
By El Loro
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This was a very good read. I got to page two hundred without realising and was put out to reach the end of the book.

I found some of the explanation of the science lacking. True, the author had to find the right balance of scientific detail but there were gaps. He mentions the separation of uranium isotopes by gaseous diffusion and explains the process, for example, but does not explain how it can be applied to an element that is a dense metal with a boiling point of over 4000 degrees Celsius. Quibbles, perhaps, but enough to nag away.

However, the real sand in the vaseline was the history, which is very much written from the perspective of the victor, perhaps with an eye to the US market. French research, for example, seems to end with the fall of France in May 1940. The epilogue takes us up to the Cuban missile crisis of 1963 but ignores the French research that led to their first nuclear test in 1960. Several pages are taken with an oblique justification of the use of the atomic bombs on Japan - including a contribution from one of his relatives - but only four lines (yes, four lines!) on the bombing of Nagasaki. No mention of Hiroshima being designated a World Heritage Site because of the bombing. The Nazi scientists are bumbling revisionists. The Soviets have spies everywhere. The Western Allies have no agents on the ground but work everything out through inspired inference and deduction. And so on...

A great read, definitely, but not good history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and informative
I bought this as background reading for a lecture I was giving on the Manhattan Project. I thought it was an absorbing read, well-written, covering military, political and... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Philip G Jones
2.0 out of 5 stars History without involvement
A reasonable history of the early nuclear arms race. The book is long on detail, but short on characterization. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Campbell262
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story telling, brilliant detail of the people, but poor on the...
This is a comparative account of the progress of various nations towards creating an effective nuclear-energy releasing bomb. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Mr. Brian R. Dougal
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterly Summary
Jim Baggott's "Atomic:" is a superb summary and updating of the history of the origin and development of nuclear weapons. Read more
Published on 11 April 2011 by paulrollo
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
Fantastic book with a perfect balance of Science and History. There are some really fascinating chapters - especially the military operation in Norway, which had me completely... Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2011 by StepanTimofeevich
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good read
The book charts the development of the atomic bomb and the characters who played the key role in its development. Read more
Published on 31 Jan 2011 by king oswald
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite dull
I really couldn't get into this book - it's dull. The subject matter is very interesting, but the story isn't told in a very accessible or inspiring way. Read more
Published on 24 Oct 2010 by SAP
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on the subject for the layman
Probably like many of the potential readers of this book, this isn't the first one I've read over the decades, but this is the 'least' scientific, the one that is more about... Read more
Published on 23 Sep 2010 by Keith Appleyard
5.0 out of 5 stars Great atomic history book for the historically ignorant
I'm not a history buff at all and it was one of the few subjects I was begging to give up at school as soon as I could, but this was written in a way that I didn't need to know the... Read more
Published on 4 Aug 2010 by JonathanNg
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Paul Rosbaud
"Atomic" is a comprehensive update of the history of the development from the beginning to today of the atom bomb in Germany, the US, England and the UdSSR. Read more
Published on 11 July 2010 by Vincent C. Frank
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