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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a brilliant contribution to our understanding of Anglo-American relations
This is a brilliant contribution to our understanding of Anglo-American relations, the history of the British nuclear programme and the decline of British power. It is also a very original study of Winston Churchill, who has been the subject of so many books but almost none that focus on his attitudes to science. It is extremely readable, wears its enormous learning...
Published 6 months ago by The Brother

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag
An interesting book but I felt about shortchanged that there wasn't enough on the actual building of the British bomb.
Published 16 months ago by Gloop


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a brilliant contribution to our understanding of Anglo-American relations, 16 Nov. 2014
This is a brilliant contribution to our understanding of Anglo-American relations, the history of the British nuclear programme and the decline of British power. It is also a very original study of Winston Churchill, who has been the subject of so many books but almost none that focus on his attitudes to science. It is extremely readable, wears its enormous learning lightly and includes good portraits of the great British scientists of the 1930s and 40s, with whom Churchill and his science adviser Frederick Lindemann had an often difficult relationship.

Britain couldn't build a nuclear bomb on her own, despite leading the world in nuclear research at the beginning of the war, but lost out further, as the book argues, because Churchill failed to guarantee British access to the technology developed by the Americans. The 1945 Labour government then felt it had to develop a bomb of its own, arguably a disastrous and hubristic attempt to maintain Britain's status as a Great Power.

It's a sobering narrative, full of professional and political intrigue. Churchill was endearingly eager to master the new physics in the 1920s, but by the 1950s was appalled by what the science had unleashed on the world.

Thoroughly recommended. Farmelo also wrote The Strangest Man, one of the finest scientific biographies to have appeared for many years.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling scientific and ethical tour de force, 12 Feb. 2015
By 
M. Hillmann "miles" (leicester, england) - See all my reviews
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Churchill was a visionary who got many things wrong but a few big things right. He was recognised for his second world war predictions and leadership but not as well known for his sustained efforts to harness brilliant scientists in developing an atomic bomb before Hitler did and then, despite his forebodings of its devastating effects, correctly predicting its ability to deter either side – Russia or US – from war.

As a professor of physics, Graham Farmelo provides an exceptionally clear description of the fundamentals of nuclear science but also the ethical dilemmas of the scientists. From the graphic accounts of discovery of splitting the atom by Rutherford and his team at Cambridge in the 1920’s and 30’s, through two refugees, Otto Frisch and Rudolph Peierls, showing in 1940 that nuclear bombs could be built to Oppenheimer’s Manhattan project.

He describes how Churchill assiduously follows the developments in nuclear science from the early predictions of HG Wells. His friendships and cultivation of scientific thought leaders was very wide including the novelist, HG Wells, his long serving scientific advisor , Lindemann and key scientists like Bohr, Tizard, Chadwick, Cockcroft, and Penney. Although there were clearly great rivalries between scientists and between the USA and UK, Farmelo describes their respective contributions.

Farmelo contends that Churchill provided the political clout and the influence with Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to ensure that the bomb technology, devised and developed in the Cambridge labs, was successfully brought to fruition in the Manhattan project. But by the second half of the twentieth century, Churchill believed scientists had finally given international leaders weapons that were more powerful than they could handle and that science was finally becoming the master of its creator and humanity would pay the price.

A compelling and immensely well researched book that illuminates the scientific, political and ethical issues raised by the development of the bomb.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag, 29 Jan. 2014
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An interesting book but I felt about shortchanged that there wasn't enough on the actual building of the British bomb.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Britain's bomb, 17 Nov. 2013
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Winston Churchill had an early interest in science and its potential for military applications. He had read the prophetic novels of H. G. Wells and his prediction of `atomic' bombs, and took a keen interest in developments in nuclear physics. He even wrote a extensive note on the subject for his own education and had it checked by Frederick Lindemann (later the Head of Oxford University Physics Department). In 1931 he felt confident enough to write an influential article about the impact of science for The Strand Magazine. Among other observations, he predicted that advances in nuclear physics would lead to weapons of unimaginable power. He wrote: "There is no question among scientists that this gigantic source of energy exists. What is lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight, ...." At the start of WWII, no other national leader knew as much about the potential of nuclear physics as Churchill. The question then is, given this, how did Britain, the leader in the field, come within a few years to be playing second fiddle to America, and be forced to acquire its own nuclear weapons in the subsequent cold war of the 1950s?

This is the central question addressed by Graham Farmelo. Along the way we are introduced to a large cast of leading British and American politicians, military men, and scientists, including refugees from Nazi Germany, such as the physicists Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch, whose theoretical work first showed that a nuclear fission weapon would be possible using only modest amounts of uranium. Lindemann, universally referred to simply as `Prof', was one of the scientists. He `worshipped' Churchill and became his most important advisor on scientific matters, particularly as applied to war. To depend so much on the advice a single person is unwise and if that person was Lindemann, doubly so, because although very skilled at writing concise summaries of new developments, he was not of the highest calibre as a scientist and did not always have the necessary full understanding. He was also heartily disliked by many other better scientists because of his dictatorial manner, and apparent delight in pursuing vicious professional vendettas. Isaiah Berlin described him as "a genuinely horrible figure", and wrote, "He is the only person, I think, whom I have ardently wished to murder." As a teetotal, non-smoking vegetarian snob, habitually wearing a suit and with his trademark bowler-hat, he was a strange friend for Churchill, who also in general distrusted specialists, as his disastrous meeting in 1943 with Neils Bohr testifies. He brushed aside Bohr's worries about a nuclear weapon, saying that it was just a bigger bomb and "made no difference to the principles of war".

As the British were ahead of the Americans at the start of the war, a joint effect would have been natural, particularly as Britain's own fledgling project - code-named Tube Alloys - had produced the so-called Maud Report, following a memorandum from Peierls and Frisch on their work, and this had been taken to America by a physicist, Marcus Oliphant, with instructions to urge this route on the authorities there. The opportunity came in 1941, when President Roosevelt proposed a joint US-British initiative to develop an atomic bomb, but inexplicably Churchill failed to respond for several months. We will probably never know why this happened, but whatever the reason, Lindemann does not appear to have appreciated the importance of the President's offer, and did not advise Churchill to respond promptly. It was an error, because shortly afterwards the Americans launched a huge solo effort based on a new laboratory at Los Alamos. Churchill partially recouped the position when at the Quebec conference in 1943 he persuaded Roosevelt to sign a secret agreement whereby the two countries would co-operate over production of the bomb and have a mutual veto on its use. But after the first successful deployment of the bombs, Roosevelt's successor, President Truman, essentially tore up the agreement. British scientists were denied access to secret information and eventually the small British contingent at Los Alamos was asked to leave. It was not helped by the discovery that an important member of the British team, Klaus Fuchs, was a spy and had passed a huge amount of information to the Russians. Farmelo believes that Churchill made a major error, but had he responded quicker, would it have made a difference in the long term? I suspect not. Only America had the resources to make the bomb, and once it had produced home-grown talent, it no longer needed the co-operation of British scientists. Churchill probably did the best he could from an inherently weak position.

Ousted in 1945, Churchill did not return to power until 1951, when he first learned that Atlee had authorised the extensive manufacture of nuclear weapons. But the world had moved on, leaving Churchill stuck with the mindset of an earlier era. He spent much time seeking détente with the Soviet Union, as if Britain was still a great power, with an intact Empire. His last significant act was to get approval for the British hydrogen-bomb program. His interaction with Lindemann (now Lord Cherwell) continued, although not with the intensity and total agreement as before. Nevertheless, when Lindemann died in 1957, Churchill insisted on attending the funeral, even though weak and in very poor health. He said: "He is gone and I am left to linger on."

Much has been written about the production of the first nuclear weapons in America, but far less about the work in Britain. Farmelo has told this fascinating and important story with great skill, deftly blending the factual history with portraits of the major players, so that the reader can understand their actions better as they grappled with the enormous responsibilities thrust upon them. Even Lindemann had some things in his favour. Although somewhat anti Semitic, he created jobs in Oxford for Jewish refugee scientists. He also encouraged Churchill to lend his name and support to the creation of a Cambridge college primarily devoted to promoting British science and engineering, his pet obsession. Farmelo received nothing but praise for his previous biography of the theoretical physicist Dirac, and this present book will enhance his reputation still further. It is the product of several years of meticulous research and is beautifully written. It is a superb book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 28 April 2015
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This review is from: Churchill's Bomb (Kindle Edition)
No problems at all downloading this book to my kindle or PC.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 20 Mar. 2015
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a present for vey well received, have not read it personally
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a considered study of the collision of politics and science, 5 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Churchill's Bomb (Kindle Edition)
Well researched but with a penchant for obscure words, this book leads the reader through the interactions of politics in the figure of Britain's leading wartime statesman and the myriad of super intelligent scientists who only considered the merit of their work after mankind questioned the morality of it.
A fascinating insight.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Churchill's Bomb, 17 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Churchill's Bomb (Kindle Edition)
Farmelo is a good scientific writer; his treatment of Paul Dirac is excellent and well-organised.

"Churchill's Bomb" is more of the same. Many of the facts in this book are available elsewhere but Farmelo summons a coherent, entertaining and informative narrative by pulling the widespread sources together and adding considerable colour. The description of Niels Bohr's treatment by Churchill is masterful. The bomb project's progress is underpinned at all points by a continued but unobtrusive timeline of the general progress of the war, and of the political landscape in the USA, Europe and the UK in the postwar period. A "must have" for anyone with even a passing interest in the higher politics of Armageddon
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graham Farmelo overturns The Two Cultures in this book, 3 Oct. 2013
By 
C. Catherwood "writer" (Cambridge UK and Richmond VA) - See all my reviews
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Lisa Jardine, in her magnificent and wholly favourable review of this book, describes it accurately as "The result is a story as gripping as it is elegantly argued and precise."

This book is all these things! And as the Director of the Science Museum asked people who read it on the train to do so ostentatiously because it is so wonderful a book, I was more than happy to read it so that everyone could see me on the recent train journey that I took.

It is, as the specialist and other reviewers have said, a masterwork, or, perhaps to use a Farmelonian construct, a true "gold standard" work. It gives fascinating and unique insights into Churchill, the creation of the Atomic Bomb, and as the publishers say, truthfully, gives us enthralling new insights into Winston Churchill, his personality, his friendship with HG Wells, and the perhaps unique way in which he, as a humanities trained layman, was able to grasp the importance of science and do so well before the advent of nuclear research itself.

And of course how he dropped the ball during World War II and unwittingly gave the lead on nuclear development to the USA....

All this is told as grippingly and elegantly as Lisa Jardine suggests!

But while other reviewers can concentrate on the details, I think that a more important thing has happened with this book. Graham Farmelo is a leading scientist, writing some of this book at the same Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton where Einstein once studied before him and where some of the world's greatest scientific minds still work today.

This is however also a magnificent work of history - it is very much an interdisciplinary book, a superb piece of historical analysis by a physicist!

I read it on the train to Cambridge, the place where CP Snow coined the phrase the "two cultures", the humanities and the sciences, where never the twain should meet.

Yet in this book they meet and do so with all the effortlessness and gripping prose to which Lisa Jardine refers.

I think that this is an historical landmark book, the nail in the coffin of Snow's division of humanities and scientists, since Farmelo can be understood and enjoyed as much by those with history degrees as those with qualifications in the sciences. The Irish writer Neil Belton has rightly praised Farmelo for the latter's interest in the arts, in poetry, in prose fiction and in using the arts and music to come together with science to create a new synthesis in which Snow's division becomes a thing of the past.

So you don't need a degree in either history or physics to enjoy this book (and as someone has joked, even chemists can understand this book too!)

It is a book to read on the train, at home or on holiday, a work of brilliant prose, historical detection and scientific insight.

And once you have read it buy a copy to give to a friend!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WORTH THE EFFORT, 28 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Churchill's Bomb (Kindle Edition)
Full of much new material,making this a great read. Very pleased I attended Words by the Water in Keswick to listen to the author giving a taster of the book's contents.
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Churchill's Bomb
Churchill's Bomb by Graham Farmelo
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