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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent early 20th Century history of science
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...
Published on 2 May 2010 by GerryP

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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars too heavy...
I thought i'd love this, adn still hope that I will, but I just can't get into it. Too dry a read.
Published on 5 Aug. 2009 by Dr. C. Watson


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent early 20th Century history of science, 2 May 2010
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This review is from: Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact (Paperback)
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 (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact (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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5.0 out of 5 stars A very ordinary reader's persective, 19 Mar. 2015
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Enthralling. Not a page skipped, but then, when John Cornwall is the author there is no temptation to skip. As always the title says what this book is about, and as I have come to expect, each subject is dealt with, in depth. It took me a long time to read. It is a big book that demands a lot of attention, taking in pre-war Germany, the historical roots of many of the sciences from the Great Exhibition on, their history. As for what was most interesting? Impossible really. The situation of the universities come 1933, the mass dismissals, the inner moral conflicts suffered by so many of them, Heisenberg & Speer, the Copenhagen Weekend, Meitner's near 'miraculous' (my words) exit from Austria, Farm Hall, are but the tiniest of examples, that went alongside discoveries in the UK and USA, including the race to the atom bomb. What happened to the scientists and the companies like IG Farben, in Germany, after the war was also absorbing and salutary. In passing, for me, I learn a lot more about physics and mathematics than I could do justice to. There is a good index. But to be honest, to look up just a few references, is to miss out on a truly mind expanding experience. I have no hesitation in recommending it, but doubt very much that I can do this book the service it deserves.
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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
By 
Palle E T Jorgensen "Palle Jorgensen" (Iowa City, Iowa United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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. Cornwell is not just relying on old historical sources. Since Michael Frayn's play `Copenhagen' a few years ago about the meeting in Copenhagen in the fall of 1941 between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, new documents have been made available from Bohr's archives which help us understand Heisenberg's motives better. Cornwell displays a remarkable judgment in making use of them
My reading of Heisenberg: If you accept a dinner invitation with the Devil, it is best to eat with a tea spoon. While Heisenberg, a humanist at heart may have understood this, at least initially, he soon found himself, perhaps as a result of blind ambition, eating at the trough with both hands deep into the stew, all the way up to his elbows.
It is perhaps ironic that the theme of the Faustian choice has a prominent place in German literature, from the medieval "Faustus" tale to Goethe, Weber's Freischuetz, to Martin Luther's Protestantism, and to Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (Mann's moral despair over his country's complacent embrace of Nazism).
In fact the theme of Cornwell's novel is universal, and it is as timely now as it was 60 years ago, and even 300 years ago. Review by Palle Jorgensen, May 2005.
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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
By 
Palle E T Jorgensen "Palle Jorgensen" (Iowa City, Iowa United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact (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. Cornwell is not just relying on old historical sources. Since Michael Frayn's play `Copenhagen' a few years ago about the meeting in Copenhagen in the fall of 1941 between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, new documents have been made available from Bohr's archives which help us understand Heisenberg's motives better. Cornwell displays a remarkable judgment in making use of them
My reading of Heisenberg: If you accept a dinner invitation with the Devil, it is best to eat with a tea spoon. While Heisenberg, a humanist at heart may have understood this, at least initially, he soon found himself, perhaps as a result of blind ambition, eating at the trough with both hands deep into the stew, all the way up to his elbows.
It is perhaps ironic that the theme of the Faustian choice has a prominent place in German literature, from the medieval "Faustus" tale to Goethe, Weber's Freischuetz, to Martin Luther's Protestantism, and to Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (Mann's moral despair over his country's complacent embrace of Nazism).
In fact the theme of Cornwell's novel is universal, and it is as timely now as it was 60 years ago, and even 300 years ago. Review by Palle Jorgensen, June 2005.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars too heavy..., 5 Aug. 2009
By 
Dr. C. Watson "Claire" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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I thought i'd love this, adn still hope that I will, but I just can't get into it. Too dry a read.
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Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact
Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact by John Cornwell (Paperback - 2 Sept. 2004)
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