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Bomb, The: A Life Paperback – 15 Apr 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (15 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674022351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674022355
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.3 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 989,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Did we ever learn to love the bomb? Perhaps not, this opinionated and lively history shows...A splendid distillation of nuclear history, and just the thing for students of the modern age.

Gerard DeGroot's history of the weapon that transformed the world after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 looks at its scientific development, the devastating consequences of its use and the strange ways it burrowed into popular imagination.

This fascinating account charts [the Bomb's] short but devastating rise from theoretical possibility to malevolent ubiquity. From the febrile atmosphere of the physics labs to the Cuban missile crisis and beyond, this portrait of man's most Promethean invention is consistently gripping.

This fascinating account charts Ýthe Bomb's¨ short but devastating rise from theoretical possibility to malevolent ubiquity. From the febrile atmosphere of the physics labs to the Cuban missile crisis and beyond, this portrait of man's most Promethean invention is consistently gripping.

This is a succinct, lucid and reliable survey which begins with Ernest Rutherford who, in 1910, postulated that atoms had nuclei, and concludes with the impact of the 9/11 attacks on theories of thermonuclear deterrence and pre-emption...This is a surprisingly evenhanded, fair, and judicious account which develops a number of significant themes..."The Bomb: A Life" is a beautifully written synthesis...It deserves to be widely read.

DeGroot makes full use of newly available material from Russia, and the gripping story of the invention and building of the bomb, spiced with wartime strategic manoeuvring, scientific intrigues and espionage, has never been better told.--George Walden"Sunday Telegraph" (08/01/2004)

DeGroot's study is profound and rich in detail. His extensive narrative is captivating.--Henning Hoff"The Independent" (08/31/2004)

Gerard DeGroot's superb 'biography' of mankind's most terrible weapons does something that has rarely, if ever, been attempted. Bringing together the scientific, political, cultural and historical threads, he looks at the Manhattan Project and its rivals in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia; and he widens the net to take in the efforts of Britain, France and other members--official or not--of the nuclear club. Ranging from atomic physics to rock 'n' roll, the result is a book that is pacey, readable and enormously wide-ranging...This is a book that really makes you think, as well as being hugely entertaining. I have read many books about different aspects of this enormous subject, but none that brings the diverse pieces together so well, in such an absorbing and truly masterly way.--Andrew Crumey"Scotland on Sunday" (06/13/2004)

DeGroot's remorselessly even-handed study of his subject leaves little room for complacency. It is scant satisfaction to those of us of a certain age to learn that the Cuban Missile Crisis really was that bad. If Kennedy had listened to Curtis LeMay and his Pentagon colleagues, Cuba would have been the trigger for an all-out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union...Kennedy took other advice, Kruschev withdrew, and all we Bomb Age teenagers survived to buy another Beatles record. But it was close. And, as we realised by the end of this excellent book, it still is.--Roger Hutchinson"The Scotsman" (07/10/2004)

Gerard DeGroot has written a lively and thought-provoking history of the nuclear bomb. It is, inevitably, a dark and scary book, but it is not without moments of grisly comedy.--Harry Reid"Glasgow Herald" (06/12/2004)

DeGroot...has written an interesting and informative book. It is easy to read, full of detail about the personalities involved, and written in a way that need not terrify non-physicists...The photographs bring on both nostalgia and amazement...Interesting, provoking and even entertaining in a gruesome way, this book is a valuable addition to the nuclear library.--Bruce Kent"The Tablet" (08/28/2004)

DeGroot's explanation of how the world got itself into a blackly surreal situation where there were perhaps 15 minutes between business as usual, and countless miles of burning rubble populated by millions of charred corpses is one of the best to appear so far. The book covers both the science of the bomb as well as its politics, and how the semi-rationality of escalation took on a life of its own...This is one of the most insightful books on the subject ever written--an effortlessly readable but quite terrifying modern classic.--Richard Wentk"Focus" (09/01/2004)

DeGroot's fascinating book is a history of the nuclear bomb, the scientists who worked on it, the politicians who armed themselves with it and the lies told to justify its existence...There is much to recommend about this book...This is a fascinating work that will help educate a new generation of anti-war campaigners to the consequences of nuclear war, as well as reminding us all that Blair and Bush aren't the first leaders to threaten death on an enormous scale.--Martin Empson"Socialist Review" (09/01/2004)

Nuclear weapons haunted life throughout the second half of the 20th century, playing an integral role in the Cold War. DeGroot here draws on many sources to produce an easy-to-read account of that anxious time. Though primarily a work of political, military, and diplomatic history, this book also offers sections on how (mostly Western) society adapted to the threat of possibly quick, massive destruction. Details about the bomb's early development and first use are well known, but it is interesting to learn what was happening in other countries as they responded by trying to build a bomb or at least adapt their thinking. What is horrifying is the widespread self-delusion or lack of understanding regarding the bomb's destructive potential among both governments and civilians.--Daniel K. Blewett"Library Journal" (01/15/2004)

Our post-Sept. 11 country should find "The Bomb"'s story enlightening. Gerard J. DeGroot has done more than write the best single-volume history of the bomb's early life in the original nuclear family: the United States, the Soviet Union, and their British, French, and Chinese offspring. He has also narrated themes that run through this generation and perhaps the next. As characters move across the page--Oppenheimer, Teller, Sakharov, Truman, Churchill, Stalin, de Gaulle, Mao, LeMay, Reagan and Gorbachev--one sees that the dangers these men created and confronted resemble the current dramas of terrorism, proliferation and military intervention...The most troubling part of the nuclear story is the way leaders rationalize their willingness to use doomsday weapons--and to blur the just-war distinction between legitimate military targets and innocent civilians...DeGroot tells his story fairly and fluently.--George Perkovich"Washington Post Book World" (03/20/2005)

A skillfully condensed narrative of the nuclear era, fascinating in the selection of details and riveting in its revelations of how possessing nuclear weapons changed those involved, and changed America.--William S. Kowinski"San Francisco Chronicle" (07/31/2005)

This very balanced history of nuclear weaponry, a straightforward chronology, should be required reading at every college and university, to promote some national introspection.--Roger Chapman "Material Culture "

Gerard DeGroot's "The Bomb: A Life" takes readers on a stroll down a memory lane pocked with shell craters...DeGroot's book offers a wealth of relevant detail, made all the more relevant by the fact that we're no safer today than in 1960.--Gregory McNamee"Kirkus Reviews" (04/20/2005)

Thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and irradiated by a wry sense of humour and a (mostly) well-restrained anger, [DeGroot's] biography of the bomb is absolutely gripping. It cannot fail to be given that every chapter in the story makes for powerful narrative, and is rich in exotic characters: Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Harry S. Truman, Stalin, Beria, John F. Kennedy, and more...Gerard DeGroot has marshaled the facts about the bomb's history from early atomic science onwards--concentrating mainly on the period up to the 1960s--with great skill and elegance. This is a book crammed with information, but so beautifully arranged that one scarcely notices what a complete education it purveys. It ends with a very just evaluation of what the existence of the bomb says about the flawed nature of human beings: their mutual distrust, their power hunger, their propensity to be impressed by anything big...It is...inevitable that the number of weapons, and their availability, will result in their use again. Our sensibilities on this score have gone to sleep: this outstanding book ought to wake them up again with a very loud bang.--A. C. Grayling"Literary Review" (06/01/2004)

"The Bomb" chronicles nuclear weapons from their conception in the 1930s through the end of the century, focusing mainly on the decisions made from 1940 to 1962 to develop and use devices of unimaginable destruction and become ironically reliant on them for maintaining peace. Was it the Soviets or the Americans who pushed the crazy escalation in megatons and warheads? The answer isn't so simple as I once thought. I count this among the best history books I've read. DeGroot's effort clarifies a bewildering and, in retrospect, insane time.--David Schoonmaker "American Scientist "

Gerard DeGroot...has produced a timely account of mankind's most awful invention, wrly wrapped as a biography...This is a clever cocktail of reportage, analysis and anecdote, from the physics of the bomb's conception to the B-movies it inspired (notably "Night of the Lepus," in which the world is threatened by giant mutant rabbits.) There are also some well-aimed blows at the late Ronald Reagan, who despite hagiographical obituaries tinkered with the superpower balance with a dangerous whimsy.--Peter Millar"The Times" (08/14/2004)

If "The Bomb" is a book about fear, and the dreadful lengths to which it can drive people, it is equally one about naivete. Nobody fully understood what they were unleashing on the people of Hiroshima...DeGroot is a gripping, accessible narrator...who doesn't duck his subject's many moral conundrums.--Dorian Lynskey"Word" (07/01/2004)"

I have been waiting most of my professional teaching life for a book like "The Bomb: A Life." It is a masterpiece.--Martin J. Sherwin, author of "A World Destroyed"

This year brings the 60th anniversary of those two terrifying days in August 1945 when we learned to love and hate the atomic bomb. To mark the milestone, there's no better read than "The Bomb: A Life," a wry biography of the weapon that made humankind think about the end of the world. University of St. Andrews history professor Gerard DeGroot reveals everything you ever wanted to know about nuclear weapons, including things you were too terrified to ask. And he has fun doing it...The beauty of DeGroot's work is his knack for the telling detail. In his effort to portray the nuclear arms race as a crazed competition that didn't have to be in 1945 but couldn't be avoided 10 years later, he doesn't let the documentary evidence stifle the story.--Michael Jacobs"USA Today" (04/20/2005)

Pausing to consider the glory days of atomic enthusiasm (check out the mushroom-cloud adorned Miss Atomic Bomb of 1957), DeGroot traces the vexed history of nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project to present-day proliferation. Disarmament campaigns get their due, but the author also argues that talk of arms reduction became futile once nations had accepted 'the mad giant of deterrence.'--Chris Jozefowicz"Discover" (05/01/2005)"

Book Description

An extraordinary, compelling account of the life and times of the atom bomb, from one of the country's leading historians (2003-06-23) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Format: Paperback
"The Bomb: A Life" is a highly readable history of nuclear weapons, from the Manhattan Project through the end of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear terrorism. I picked the book up on a whim and soon found that DeGroot's style kept me turning the pages.
DeGroot's book is a fairly high level overview of the development of the atomic bomb and its even more horrific successor, the hydrogen bomb. It also explores the challenges of integrating these earthshaking weapons into military and political doctrine, with a special emphasis on the formative period of the 1950s and early sixties.
But "The Bomb" is more than just a military or geopolitical history. Degroot gives equal time to domestic developments provoked by the Bomb, such as disarmament movements, the grim fate of "downwinders," and artifacts of bomb-driven cultural history like Bert the Turtle, "Dr. Stangelove," Doomtown, "The Day After," and the Doomsday Clock. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is its description of the interplay between nuclear weapons and society--how the bomb changed culture, and how culture responded by changing the bomb.
DeGroot is an equal opportunity critic, and he muses about both the excesses of nuclear warriors and the quixotic struggles of those who pressed for disarmament. In the end, he demurs--"a final verdict on the Bomb is impossible."
If you are looking for a readable overview of the development and cultural impact of nuclear weapons, "The Bomb: A Life" is a good and sobering place to start.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read both "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" and "Dark Sun" I approached this book with caution - I wondered how could anyone hope to add anything significant, or new, to history of the bomb?
This book is more of a social history of, rather than an analysis of, the development of the bomb. Eminently readable, this book complements the other "authoritative" texts, gleaning new light on a disturbing history.
Throughout the book we are reminded of the horrors of war, and the horrors of using nuclear weapons.
This book gets my vote for non-fiction book of the year.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is balanced, informative and written in a very engaging style. Gerard DeGroot avoids the twin pitfalls of glorifying in the bomb and the idea of deterrence or of falling into anti-nuclear polemics and venerating protest groups such as CND. The story is told from the early days of atomic science when the author paints a picture of scientists as being almost frighteningly naïve (or wilfully blind to the consequences of their work). The race to develop the bomb in WW2 is told in some detail although as the book makes clear, after a promising early start in Germany it became a one horse race. The scale of the Manhattan project is still staggering, the story of the early period of bomb development is rich with imposing characters such as Leslie Groves (he may have been bull headed and less than tactful, but he was a great organiser), Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller (more Dr. Stranglove-like than Doctor Strangelove in some ways), Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Of all these characters the one who is portrayed in the most negative way is Heisenberg, the picture that emerges of Heisenberg is of a man who sought to find moral superiority in his failure to develop a bomb whilst being acutely aware of his professional failure, a story of hubris and professional venality.
The harrowing story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is told in some detail, DeGroot walks a tightrope in letting the horror of what happened in these two cities speak for itself and spares the reader the sort of self righteous indulgence that typifies some histories of these dreadful events.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A throughly engaging and well written book which deals mostly with the socially and political aspects of The Bomb. In the process it does a very good job of highlighting some of the absurd decisions that were made in its development and how we came to have several thousands warheads on each side. The authour does offer criticism but this is even handed and isn't just directed at either the pro-nuke or anti-nuke and is really of a politically neutral nature.

Overall an excellent and informative read and well recommended.
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Format: Paperback
For the more academic types, many of the subjects encompassed by this very readable story of the history of atom bomb development are not given enough detail to be of any worth. However, that said, I have found it a much easier read than the detailed histories of the subject by Richard Rhodes. What de Groot manages to accomplish very well is sufficient detail to keep the average reader interested and to provide a comprehensive overview to what I have found to be a massive subject with many authors, some good, some awful. I read it first as a library book whilst doing research for a lecture and since I have bought a paperback copy of it to read again. It is very well written and will provide other avenues of research for the enthusiast as they discover in general terms the story of the atom bomb. I liked it and would recommend it as a very good starting point for investigation into the subject, for the average reader as well as someone engaging on an academic course of study. Well worth the money I paid to buy it.
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