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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Comprehensive, Informative, and Compelling read
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...
Published on 28 Nov 2009 by Ghostgrey51

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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. 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...
Published 23 months ago by Campbell262


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars History without involvement, 14 Aug 2012
This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (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.
Back to the book, a worthwhile read but perhaps not the last word. I am soon to start reading Richard Rhodes 'The Making Of The Atomic Bomb'. I hope this highly regarded book fills in the gaps from 'Atomic'.
Since writing the review, I have since read all four of Richard Rhodes books on the development and management of nuclear weapons, and would have to say that they are vastly superior. As a direct comparison, 'The Making Of The Atomic Bomb' is everything that this book is not; comprehensive, accurate and thought-provoking.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Comprehensive, Informative, and Compelling read, 28 Nov 2009
By 
Ghostgrey51 (Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Rattling good read - but some inexplicable omissions, 28 Jan 2012
This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (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 (Wells, UK) - See all my reviews
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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
This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (Paperback)
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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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Have Known Sin, 17 Dec 2009
By 
Mr. Gtj Charmley "gerardtjcharmley" (Cardiff, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (Paperback)
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This book is intended as a popular history of the quest to create one of the definining weapons of our age: the atom bomb. Baggott tells this tale through the men and women who discovered the principles of nuclear fission, and then applied them in orderto create a weapon of frightening power. Starting with the formulation of the theory behind nuclear fission in the 1930s, Baggott takes the story up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which threatened the use of these weapons on a massive scale.

While he states that the history of the Bomb is intertwined with fear, Baggott manages to avoid trotting out the old CND line. The men and women, German, British and Russian, whose work led to the creation of the atom bomb are treated as individuals, flawed and essentially human. The use of the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, too, is treated without the use of the inevitability argument on the one hand and the old Soviet line that it was wholly directed against Russia, while British concerns, too, are dealt with.

This book is not too technical for someone without a science background to undertand it. There are no flow charts and no big equations: just men and women, sometimes acting the part of heroes, sometimes villains, and other times just making the best of what they have. If you believe that history is pre-eminently the story of individuals, this book will definitely appeal to you.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real achievement!, 23 Dec 2009
By 
bomble "bomble" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (Paperback)
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Jim Baggott has achieved something very impressive in this excellent book. I'll freely admit that I'm no scholar of the history surrounding the development of nuclear weapons but I've always taken an interest in the subject - both in my physical sciences education and wider curiosity. What Baggott has done is tell the tale in a way that gripped me from start to finish. That's over five hundred pages of information-dense text and dozens of interweaved lives. Yet it comes across as consistent, dramatic, amusing and tragic in the tradition of the best story-tellers; scholarly and referenced in the tradition of the best lay science writers; and viewed from a framework of hindsight that sets out to explore the motivations of the men and women involved rather than push an agenda.

The science behind the nuclear fission and fusion is kept to a discrete minimum in this book but there are plenty of other resources that would permit you to delve further if you felt under-informed. What you'll have difficulty finding is a book which is so successful in examining the linked tales of countless individuals across the globe who participated in the development of the atomic technologies, and the murky paths of espionage that penetrated the highest levels of secrecy.

Not once did I find myself bogged down or wishing to skip ahead. Baggott hands out a revelation or anecdote on almost every page. For the specialists, much of this may be `old news' but I'd be astonished if there's anyone who could read this without learning something new about this fascinating, high-pressure history. The book covers a vast breadth of terrain from the humble beginnings of nuclear science to the patient and determined efforts of the cryptanalysts to the politics and strategy of the world leaders of the day. It is sometimes hard to keep so many names in context but there are helpful appendices that contain timeline, references and notes to keep you from going adrift.

I'm not qualified to question the detail but there remain a few threads that I'd have liked to have seen developed further. On reflection, what I'd really enjoy is for Baggott to pick these up in the next instalment! Notable in its absence is the story of the fledgling science & engineering of rocketry that was pioneered in Nazi Germany and seeded the space-race on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The intrinsic links between weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them doesn't really play a part in Baggott's tale. Despite the main text ending shortly after the Soviet Joe-1 test, the epilogue deals with the further development of the megaton bombs in the US and USSR. In this time frame, I really felt the space race was worthy of mention. Still, you have to draw the line somewhere and I can't consider this a criticism of the book as it kept the scope manageable.

I'm not a huge fan of the star rating system as there's no such thing as a perfect book - but I have no hesitation in rating this one a 5* because whether or not you agree with his conclusions, it'll be worth the effort to read how Baggott reached them.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and readable. A job very well done., 14 April 2009
By 
M. Lewchenko (UK) - See all my reviews
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This book exceeded my expectations. I was expecting the book to be difficult to get into, and dry due to the subject matter (despite being about the atomic bomb).

However, it was very readable, with excellent footnotes on many pages to explain certain elements further (often revealing after the event information to bolster the story).

The author has a way with words which allow him to tell factual events like a story in very well managed sections. They dont last forever, and the author will break up a story if needs be and return to it later.

I cannot comment on how factually accurate it is, but I believe it is well researched, and the author will actually point out if something he is writing about appears 'lost to history'

Its a big book, and good value for money. Anybody with an interest in war history or science will love this book. I thought I knew the history of atomic weapons quite well, but I learnt a lot from this book.

Any improvements... well the only one I can think of is that it becomes easy to lose track of the many characters you are introduced to (and there are lots). A double page spread of all of them with details of which side they were on and their role would help a bit. This is a minor criticism though, as I do think this is the best book on atomic history that Ive read.

*** edited - this section is actually at the back of the book. I didnt notice it until afterwards.

Just to provide a summary, the history of the atomic bomb, from the discovery of U235 fission through to the 1949 is covered in great detail. It covers participation from all countries, with a lot of detail about the US/Germany/UK/Russia involvement.

Spoiler :

Its amazing to think that we only got the bomb as quick as we did because we BELIEVED that Germany would acquire it before us unless we worked faster and harder, and that spies in the programme readily gave secrets to Russia to ensure they had the bomb after the war was over to ensure no one country had access to such unlimited warfare capabilities.

This book makes the above very readable. Sometimes you cant get better than fact for a good story.

Highly Recommended.

The only reason this book is a 4* and not a 5 is because I think the author covered 1960 to 2009 very quickly. Too quickly in fact. I know the book was 1939 to 1949.. but then why mention the 1960's stuff at all ? And the summary of the current status quo in 2008/9 seemed a bit brief in comparison. Anyways... a fantastic book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding one volume popular history of the Atomic dawn, 17 Dec 2009
By 
Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (Paperback)
This is an outstanding one volume popular history of events that lay at the heart of the dark 20th century. The development of nuclear theory, the race to beat the Third Reich to the fission bomb, the Manhattan project, and the espionage that gave the Soviets the bomb and the world the Cold War, are treated under the covers of a single book, and with real clarity and an accessible style. The theory of fission is described with the same fluency as a commando raid.

If you're like me, then your knowledge of the topic comes from the BBC series Oppenheimer, the film Shadowmakers, or the play Copenhagen, you will place these in context with this fine book. Whatever happens, you can't fail but learn a great deal about an epic story from an accomplished writer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good story telling, brilliant detail of the people, but poor on the science, 17 April 2012
By 
Mr. Brian R. Dougal (Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939 -1949 (Paperback)
This is a comparative account of the progress of various nations towards creating an effective nuclear-energy releasing bomb.
Coverage of all the people involved is extremely detailed, the activities of even very minor players being discussed.
It is very readable as a chronological story of the events, without any unexplained technical words etc.

Unfortunately the coverage of the technical aspects is very patchy, and often one is left not knowing WHY something was such a priority. I feel sure explanations could have been given, without delving into detailed quantum mechanics?
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