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Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact [Paperback]

John Cornwell
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Price: 12.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

2 Sep 2004
In a rich and fascinating history John Cornwell tells the epic story of Germany's scientists from the First World War to the collapse of Hitler's Reich. He shows how Germany became the world's Mecca for inventive genius, taking the lion's share of Nobel awards, before Hitler's regime hijacked science for wars of conquest and genocidal racism. Cornwell gives a dramatic account of the wide ranging Nazi research projects, from rockets to nuclear weapons; the pursuit of advanced technology for irrational ends, concluding with with penetrating relevance for today: the inherent dangers of science without conscience.


Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (2 Sep 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140296867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140296860
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 416,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

John Cornwall directs the Science and Human Dimension Project at Cambridge University, and is an award-winning journalist and author. His books A Thief in The Night: The Death of Pop John Paul I and Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII were both bestsellers worldwide. John Cornwell lives in London, Cambridge and Northamptonshire.

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I have an early impression of my father holding me up to glimpse a black growling angel trailing fire in the moonlit sky across London: it was a VI - a long-range pilotless 'pulse-jet' flying bomb, what today we would call a cruise missile. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By GerryP
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As other reviewers have commented this book is far wider than just Hitler's scientists. It is a fascinating overview of early 20th Century science, particularly physics. It describes the personalities and the behaviour of individual scientists before the last world war leading up to the Nazi regime and its downfall. One reviewer says it is too heavy. My view is that whilst it does go into a lot of detail if you read it quickly, not worrying about the intricacies of discovery it makes a good enjoyable and informative read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly readable - and chilling 21 Mar 2005
By D. Harris TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Cornwell sets out in detail how German scientists (in the main) collaborated with Hitler's regime. Apart from the usual subjects (V weapons, atomic power) he contributes a lengthy and essential background section giving an overview of the development of German science from the mid 19th century on, followed by a thorough examination of the state of most areas of science in the 1930s. (For a deeper look at the development of atomic power - especially the murky question of whether or not the German scientists really tried to develop a weapon - see Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb: 1939-49.)

Perhaps it might have been helpful to give a wider perspective here on the Nazi period. Scientists collaborated, but so, surely, did most other professional groups? It would have been helpful to see some comparisons.

Cornwell takes his story forward through the Cold War and exploitation, both Western and Soviet, of wartime German science - and, by extension the slave workers who were sacrificed to it. He then turns to the foundations of the post war German economy, which he argues were based, ultimately, on the same slave workers. These were for me the most sobering parts of the book.

He is at pains to draw lessons for the present and the future, and to stress the need for scientists to act responsibly. It's impossible to disagree, but given that scientists are part of the societies they serve, it is hard to see how we can expect much better in the future. This is where the wider context - placing scientists alongside other professions and interest groups - might have been helpful (though at the cost of vastly expanding the scope of the book).
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of science. 22 Jun 2005
Format:Hardcover
Don't get distracted by the title! When I noticed it while browsing in the book store in an airport, I was at first worried that this would another one of these overly opinionated books, more interested in imposing a view on me the poor reader than in good writing, and in letting me make up my own mind. I started reading in the plane, and was pleased to find that the author manages to paint a captivating portrait of a group of German scientists who were faced with a Faustian choice; Fritz Haber (poison gas), Werner von Braun (rockets), Werner Heisenberg (atomic bomb), Otto Hahn (fission), Max von Laue (nuclear physics) to mention only a few. For the most part, the book reads like a novel, and with his superb writing, the author Cornwell brings the characters to life. Many of the German scientists in the 1930ties were Jewish, or partly Jewish, and they were dismissed by Hitler in 1933, or the years up to the war. Many of them emigrated, and others ended up in concentration camps. Some ( Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Hans Bethe, and more) went to the USA, and became the core of the team, the Manhattan Project who built the first atomic bomb, the one used by the US government against Japan in 1945.
The bigger picture in Cornwell's book is the role of ethics in science. By weaving together the individuals, their thoughts, their ambitions, and their flawed judgments, Cornwell is not excusing anyone, but rather, he is helping us understand that we all must take responsibility for our actions. We can perhaps understand how present day scientists, and in fact all of us are faced with Faustian choices of our own.
I liked this one of Cornwell's books a lot better than his perhaps better known one, `Hitler's Pope'. It had me hooked from the start, and I couldn't put it down.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ethics and/in Science 22 Jun 2005
Format:Paperback
Don't get distracted by the title! When I noticed it while browsing in the book store in an airport, I was at first worried that this would another one of these overly opinionated books, more interested in imposing a view on me the poor reader than in good writing, and in letting me make up my own mind. I started reading in the plane, and was pleased to find that the author manages to paint a captivating portrait of a group of German scientists who were faced with a Faustian choice; Fritz Haber (poison gas), Werner von Braun (rockets), Werner Heisenberg (atomic bomb), Otto Hahn (fission), Max von Laue (nuclear physics) to mention only a few. For the most part, the book reads like a novel, and with his superb writing, the author Cornwell brings the characters to life. Many of the German scientists in the 1930ties were Jewish, or partly Jewish, and they were dismissed by Hitler in 1933, or the years up to the war. Many of them emigrated, and others ended up in concentration camps. Some ( Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Hans Bethe, and more) went to the USA, and became the core of the team, the Manhattan Project who built the first atomic bomb, the one used by the US government against Japan in 1945.
The bigger picture in Cornwell's book is the role of ethics in science. By weaving together the individuals, their thoughts, their ambitions, and their flawed judgments, Cornwell is not excusing anyone, but rather, he is helping us understand that we all must take responsibility for our actions. We can perhaps understand how present day scientists, and in fact all of us are faced with Faustian choices of our own.
I liked this one of Cornwell's books a lot better than his perhaps better known one, `Hitler's Pope'. It had me hooked from the start, and I couldn't put it down.
Read more ›
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