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Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-49 Hardcover – 5 Mar 2009

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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 x 5.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 592,582 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


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


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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Seel VINE VOICE on 25 Nov 2009
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Campbell262 on 14 Aug 2012
Format: Paperback
A reasonable history of the early nuclear arms race. The book is long on detail, but short on characterization. Probably the most important man in atomic history was Robert Oppenheimer, but I learned little about him that I didn't already know. 'Oppenheimer was certainly talented, but he was more technician than innovator.' On the other hand, a colleague is quoted as calling him 'A specialist in the problems of nuclear physics...he was one of the very best interpreters of the mathematical theories to those of us who were working more directly with the experiments.' That sounds like a lot more than just a technician!
The science, as far as my meager knowledge can tell, is accurate but limited, perhaps understandably so. It might not be a good idea to tell us how to build an atomic bomb in our kitchen from waste uranium in the rubbish bin.
The book suffers a little from hindsight, although in fairness, it does try to present the Nazi dilemma from knowledge known at the time. For the workers on the Manhattan Project, there could have been no assurance that they were ahead of the Nazis until very near the end of the war.
Should the bombs have been exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki; easy to say no from our perspective in time, very difficult for those making decisions in 1945. But one point is missed in this and many other books. Had the bomb not been used on Japan, how likely is it that the USA and Soviet Russia would have used it in 1950 in Korea, or in 1962 during the Cuba crisis. Knowing what the bomb could do is very, VERY different to having seen its effects on human cities. That does not make a justification for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but, for me at least, it gives pause for thought that perhaps something good did come out of those twin tragedies.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ghostgrey51 TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 Nov 2009
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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