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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 September 2016
This must be the definitive account of how the atomic bomb was developed. You also get a very solid history of physics (and to some extent chemistry) in the early decades of the twentieth century. The personalities of those involved with the Manhattan Project are not neglected, and come across with all the strengths, flaws, hopes and fears you might expect.

Essential reading if you have any interest at all in this subject. And don't be put off by the length - I found the book hard to put down.
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on 26 April 2017
Absolutely fantastically researched book and a surprsingly easy read. Beginning with nuclear physics from a historical standpoint a hundred years and more before the bomb makes a lot of sense and gives a feel for exactly what a massive undertaking the bomb was It's hard to believe even now what a vast project it was - how tragic that it was for such a cause! I've read a lot of physics books over the years to try and understand nuclear physics at a basic level, but I've got to say this book gave me a better grasp than some of the text books.A must read for anyone interested in the history or the science of atomic weapons.
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on 31 May 2017
A totally comprehensive and detailed account of the theoretical and practical physics that created the fission bomb.
I enjoyed the whole book and even learned some physics despite spending a lifetime being a physicist.
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on 8 March 2017
Excellent. I've only read 100 pages and I can already say this a very good book.
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on 18 July 2017
Authors account very readable and totally engrossing.....excellent.
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on 27 March 2017
interesting read
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on 4 April 2005
Hard to add to the best reviews of this astonishing book. I'd normally struggle with an 800 page tome, but this had me riveted from beginning to end. Somehow, Richard Rhodes interweaves science, politics and the good old human ego in this tale of discovery, dedication, achievement and madness.
The sheer scale of the author's research is admirable enough, but the scale of that which he describes is vast. This is, in essence, how hard-won discoveries, often by brilliant individuals, gradually reveal the process of fission chain reaction, and how this knowledge is inevitably usurped by the military in a desperate, superhuman mobilisation of resources to create the first atomic bomb.
The book is more than the sum of its parts, which are grand enough. It touches on the human condition and how powerful we can be both as individuals and as dynamic, dedicated groups working towards a common goal. The goal here, terribly, is one of destruction, but the raw power of the bomb is mirrored in the controlled power of the writing and the hope that the author and contributors hold out for the wiser use of their terrifying 'gadget'.
Read it and be awed.
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on 12 November 2016
Rather than just the development of the atom-bomb, this encyclopaedic work covers all of nuclear physics from Rutherford in the 1890s, beyond Hiroshima, to the explosion of the first Hydrogen bomb in 1952. It also covers the complex political process behind the US bomb programme, plus related developments in the wider world: poison gas, anti-semitism, area bombing....

Rhodes provides an enormous amount of technical detail, but what he does best is humanise the science. He provides biographies of the many key scientists and does well bringing them to life. He also shows the flashes of imagination by which science is advanced, and the prejudices by which it is sometimes hindered.

However, when I say this is an encyclopaedic book, I mean it's a baggy, digressive monster which often proceeds at a crawl. Rhodes is also slightly erratic in the information he includes. For example, he makes no real attempt to explain Heisenberg's matrix mechanics. Such omissions are minor, but also very curious, given that he can spare eight pages for a history of the Jews in Europe since 500 BC.

A bigger problem is Rhodes' clumsy English. Every few pages he produces a sentence so badly constructed as to be confusing. There are sentences without objects, misplaced predicates.... Admittedly, things did seem better later on. Either he improved with practice, or I learned to appreciate his statements on an impressionistic level.

These faults are a shame, because with better editing, this could have been an unequivocally great book.
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on 15 February 2005
There aren't many books that can claim to tell a story as important as the story related here, in Richard Rhodes' astounding history of an astounding sequence of scientific discoveries. His book, as attested to by the praise, lives up to the epic reality.
The first two thirds are the most interesting - the tale of the science, still new and very mysterious, becoming clearer gradually, often in tiny increments; and the tale of the scientists, who were moving civilisation towards something both magnificence and terrible. The final third is riveting, but can't match the thrilling story of the maturing of atomic theory and experiment.
Rhodes pulls everything into the book - conversations and recollections on the streets of London; commando missions to destroy heavy-water plants in Norway; descriptions of hikes up hills during which scientists discussed the next set of scientific possibilities; and intimate character portraits of not only the key players, but of anyone who in some way impacted upon the development of the bomb. Some may find the style so exhaustive as to be exhausting; but if you are patient, Rhodes will effortlessly show you whole worlds you would never otherwise have seen.
I can't recommend it highly enough.
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on 17 June 1999
I must admit to rarely coming across a better book. History, physics, human nature all wrapped into an engrossing and fundamentally disturbing tome.
Not only that, it's reasonably well written to be entertaining in it's own right. I bought it after reading it at the library, how convinced can you get?
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