on 26 May 2009
A long book, but definitely worth reading if you are interested in the history & science behind the atomic bomb era. The author has a effective way of explaining issues clearly and engagingly - I initially thought it would be dull, but it reads well on many levels. It has action, espionage, heroism & military history. I particularly liked the concluding chapters; detailing what happened to all the main players, and the 'what if' scenarios played out to their possible conclusions.
With next to no knowledge of Physics beyond GCSE level, this book was a fantastic insight into the world of the atom. The book chronicles the tale of the atomic bomb, beginning with Marie Curie and culminating in the "Little Boy" dropped on Hiroshima. Preston is a masterful storyteller, able to effortlessly explain physics to the layman: with a comprehensive glossary provided at the back, the book will be accessible to everyone regardless of physical or historical knowledge. But what makes this book such a triumph is the human story behind the discoveries - their ethical and moral dilemmas; their personality traits and relationships; and their growing struggle to balance science with the changing political climate. History is not about a series of depersonalised events but about the individuals, who all had their unique role to play - and this book is a prime example of how individual decisions and coincidences led to one of the most spectacular and terrible events in human history.
If I were to give one criticism, it's the fact that there's just far too many names involved. You start to recognise the names towards the end of the book, but in the beginning you feel that you are being introduced to too many characters at once, and their life stories, relationships and discoveries all start to get a little mixed up for those of us who have never heard of half of them. This is possibly an unfair comment, as it was the nature of the project to have involved such a diverse spectrum of people - but perhaps it could have been presented in such a way to make it easy for us to distinguish each scientist from the other (a list at the back detailing each scientist and their significance could have helped, for example).
It is also important to note that this book is not one that critically examines, redefines or challenges historical concepts. The author's views remain unexpressed save in the final pages of the epilogue; no judgment is passed on the morality nor the justifiability of the science. However, this objectivity is at the same time why it is so successful: the reader is presented by the bare facts only, so that we are faced with the same moral dilemmas of the scientists at that time and left to construct our own views.
This book will not be a sensational bestseller, but it is one that does its job well: to give a narrative and people-centric overview of the technology that changed our world forever.