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Good with Caveats...,
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This review is from: Churchill's Bomb (Kindle Edition)
I had greatly enjoyed "The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac" by the same author, so was looking forward to this book as well. In many ways it covers the same type of period, however instead of documenting the golden age of quantum physics through the eyes of one talented scientist, it looks at the staggering progress in atomic physics from the 1st probings of the atomic nucleus to the development and use of the atomic bomb and the ramifications of that use after the 2nd world war.
Calling it Churchill's bomb however is a bit of a misnomer. While Churchill does figure prominently throughout the book, the real story is about the scientists like James Chadwick who made the advances toward the use of fission energy. In fact sometimes I felt the books title had been hoisted on to it to ensare those with little interest in physics, but were fans of Churchill. Certainly, it is not till the book moves on to post-war atomic politics that Churchill plays a more prominent role.
I was also a bit wary of the authors portrayal of Churchill's scientific adviser, Professor Lindemann. Often he comes out as a like a cartoon villain, forever hindering those around him who did not agree with his views. I also think the author is a little harsh on his abilities as a scientist. While not an Einstein or a Bohr, was certainly no intellectual dullard and a 1st class physicist.
I must admit that I had already met Professor Lindemann in another book, the excellent " Winston Churchill's Toyshop" by Stuart Macrae. In this 1st hand account of the activities one of Britain's most prolific wartime development lab, he explains that without Lindemann and his direct access to Churchill, the organisation would of been continually curtailed by the Ministry of Supply. In fact if there were any villains of the piece it would be the petty bureaucrats at the MoS who also managed to curtail post war bomb development. It is also amazing to see, that even during a time of national crisis, that peoples personalities would often override the nations need.
But my biggest criticism is that the book falls in a familiar trap of such books of relying on hindsight when judging history. One of the authors criticisms of Professor Lindemann and Churchill was that they failed to foresee the successful realisation of the development of an atomic bomb and did not put enough priority on it. Today, looking over the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this seems foolish. However at the time they were not alone and it is fortunate that scientists in both Germany, Russia and Japan lacked the same foresight. In fact it could be argued that only America, with its vast industrial resources, largely untouched by war could afford to take the huge gamble and attempt to develop the devices since only they could afford the economic cost of failure. Once developed the weapon, it is unlikely that the USA would of been any more willing to share control and information with their allies.
In it's defence, the book does gallop along nicely, effortlessly flipping from character to character. I also learned a lot about the post war British atomic politics. For example I was unaware that Churchill to the last was attempting to get both Russia and the USA to agree to nuclear disarmament talks, something that would have to wait until the McCarthyism and the Cold War tensions reduced.
However I just feel that I would of liked to know more about some of the roles of the British Nuclear scientists and less of the petty bickering within governments.