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on 5 January 2013
Richard Rhodes' second book is quite different to the first, and to a large extent overlaps it. The first book mentioned espionage from the Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union, but only really in passing. Dark Sun goes into detail, telling me far more than I had ever previously known about the actions of Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, among others. The book gets into its stride with the development of the hydrogen bomb, which is explained clearly and succinctly. It becomes really frightening, however, when it tells of the events of Cuba in 1962. To read of how LeMay and other American hawks wanted to unleash nuclear warfare on the Soviet Union chills the blood. The accounts of how coldly they were prepared to accept the loss of millions of American lives to achieve 'victory' is alarming. Of course, we now know that Kennedy was a wiser man, and disaster was avoided, but much of the book is still relevant today.
It is a harder read than 'the Making of the Atomic Bomb' with all the espionage and politics, but just as rewarding and perhaps even more enlightening.
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on 5 June 2017
Very disappointing! I read his book on building the Atomic Bomb and was fascinated by it. This book however was more about the soviet espionage in gaining knowledge to build their own atomic bomb. I expected more about the building of the hydrogen bomb.
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on 4 July 2008
Some of the more negative reviews of this book are less than perceptive. Rhodes' earlier 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' is an extraordinary book, an exhilarating intellectual adventure that suddenly becomes what we had forgotten it was all along; an appalling human tragedy. The description of Little Boy's effect on the city and people of Hiroshima is some of the most powerful non-fiction writing I have ever read. The atomic scientists believed, almost up until the last minute, that they would be permitted a role in the decision to drop the bomb. When they weren't, it affected them in many different ways. This book is about those ways.

The claim that Rhodes should have 'spared the politics' is idiotic. This book is the shadowy aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it's primarily about the slow construction of the nuclear state. The politics are an integral part of the story, and they are fascinating. Rhodes is very good about the Soviet bomb program, which relied heavily on nuclear secrets stolen from the Americans but which was still a pretty heroic effort. Stalin put secret police chief Lavrenti Beria in charge of it, which probably set them back a couple of years in that the brutal, scientifically illiterate and deeply paranoid Beria never had the slightest grasp of what the Soviet scientists were doing or even that radiation could be bad for you. (When Beria finally gets arrested and executed after Stalin's death, the reader almost breathes a sigh of relief.)

Bad as Beria was, the most chilling character in the book is actually the man who set the US H-bomb program back years: Edward Teller. Teller is spoken of as a great scientist, but he seems to have been incapable of sustained work on any one problem, preferring to flit about from topic to topic and constantly urging the authorities to funnel manpower and resources into his own fundamentally flawed H-bomb design, the so-called 'Super'. The Super never would have worked (the first H-bomb, Ivy Mike, was based on a quite different design), but Teller never seems to have admitted it to himself. Instead, he blamed his old boss Robert Oppenheimer for the failure to realise his own unworkable scheme and when a conniving incompetent named William Borden started making false and damaging claims about Oppenheimer's political loyalty, Teller jumped on the bandwagon and made similar claims of his own. Oppenheimer was subjected to a gruelling and punitive security hearing and his security clearance was ultimately revoked, even though Rhodes finds it easy enough to demonstrate that Oppenheimer could never have been a Soviet spy.

Teller is the book's real villain - a vengeful, bitter and unreliable human being who ended up with enormous influence and power. The eventual key to the design of the H-bomb was in fact the work of Teller and Stanislaw Ulam, but Teller refused to recognise Ulam's contribution and to his death he continued to claim sole credit, something which his fellow scientists quietly insist he did not deserve. In spite of having destroyed Oppenheimer's career, Teller had the insensitivity to go up to him and behave as if they were still friendly, which Oppenheimer found more baffling than insulting.

William Borden was apparently a fairly typical bureaucratic hack with no special understanding of nuclear war; he believed it to be 'inevitable', which as the intervening sixty years have demonstrated is not necessarily the case. He and sometime Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss are the two other least likeable characters in the book, motivated more by personal dislike of Oppenheimer than by any real proof that he was politically disloyal.

Curtis LeMay is a somewhat tragic figure. A personally brave and skilful commander in WW2, he came to be motivated by the humanly commendable but militarily dubious desire to not risk his own men in combat. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that any competent commander sometimes has to do just that. LeMay developed a theory of deterrence that came to encompass the necessity for preventive nuclear strikes; during the Cuban missile crisis, LeMay (at his blustering worst) urged Kennedy to let him nuke the USSR into oblivion and when Kennedy refused, he contemptuously wrote the President off as a coward. Kennedy may have been guilty of brinkmanship, but if he had listened to LeMay half the planet would now be a wasteland and the rest would be suffering from a nuclear winter.

Men like Teller, Borden, Strauss and LeMay governed American nuclear policy for decades, which is one of the reasons why the US now has a colossal national debt. The Cold War ended the Soviet Union, but it also pushed the American economy to the edge on which it has been teetering for years, as well as shoving the mainstream of American politics grotesquely far to the right.

'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' is, among other things, a book about how wise and good men did a very bad thing. 'Dark Sun' is (among other things) about how those men were systematically ignored by powerful men who were less wise, more suspicious, more vengeful, more terrified. It's about how the Cold War came to happen. If it's less fun than the previous book (which of course ceases to be fun the minute the first bomb falls on Hiroshima), it's because it had to be. You need to read them both. Everybody does, because we still have thermonuclear weapons and if our leaders wanted it enough, it could all happen all over again.
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on 30 October 2013
I've read Rhodes book "The Making of the atomic bomb" and I loved it. I went looking for this immediately afterwards.

An in depth coverage of the H bomb. It may not be to all tastes (LOTS of detail)...but if you like your history detailed and with some techno babble then this is the place.

A worthwhile purchase.
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on 3 December 2001
This book succeeds in being many things to many people. It is a spy novel, as we follow the espionage twists and turns during the Manhattan Project. It is horror story, as chilling as any Hammer movie; we are told just how close the world came close to oblivion, before the Cuban missile crisis brought men to their senses. And it is a scientific exposition, in relative layman's terms, of how the physicists discovered the secret of the thermonuclear. Richard Rhodes' narrative keeps even technophobes hooked. The descriptions of how H-bomb tests exceeded even the anticipated yields are particularly chilling.
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on 19 January 1997
Rhodes' earlier "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" won a Pulitzer prize; I thought this was even better. The first part is an account of Soviet espionage into the Manhattan project; Rhodes lets us in on all the mundane details while allowing the inherent drama to come through in full force.

The second part was even more of a revelation: I never thought the nature of the "technically sweet" innovation that saved the
H-bomb project would be revealed to the public during my lifetime, but it's spelled out here. I also never thought I'd understand in detail how an H-bomb works, but Rhodes makes it both comprehensible and fascinating.

Chapter 24 is the heart of the book--a description of the Mike shot, the world's first thermonuclear explosion. Don't start reading it if you have to go somewhere soon. A classic case of "I couldn't put it down".
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on 13 January 2007
As with his previous book Richard Rhodes excels in taking us right to the heart of the story, with an abundance of interwoven characters. I admit that in parts I found it evocative of Dr Strangelove! However, for me I found the science aspect somewhat limited, with large jumps between developments and other parts extremely vague. I'm sure this is in part due to a large amount of the relevant documentation being classified.
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on 13 April 2014
Having read and enjoyed Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb I was a little disappointed to find that so much of this book was concerned with the political and strategic motives for development of the Hydrogen bomb rather than the science and technology.

From the start there is a great deal of information on Soviet espionage and how the secrets they acquired were enormously helpful to them in the development of their own nuclear bomb. In fact, the first half of the book could well be titled The Making of the Soviet Atomic Bomb. The testing of the first Soviet A-bomb naturally led to the USA's drive to proceed with development of thermonuclear weapons and the beginning of the nuclear arms race. This justifies the inclusion of so much material on the Soviet project. I was quite surprised to see just how dependent the Soviets were on information acquired from the West.

When Rhodes does eventually get to the detail of how thermonuclear bombs were developed and the essentials of how they work it makes fascinating reading. On the way there is good insight into some of the key figures of that era: Edward Teller's role, it seems, was not as important as the popular term "Father of the Hydrogen Bomb" would suggest; Curtis LeMay comes across as an efficient, highly determined but utterly ruthless general, only too ready to turn the cold war hot. Towards the end of the book Rhodes explains how LeMay and his boss General Thomas S Power could have accidentally precipitated a major nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. Then there is Lavrenti Beria, Stalin's enforcer. I was somewhat surprised to find that he was a major driving force in the Soviet A-bomb project (having a similar role to General Groves in the US). His paranoia, though, put scientists and engineers permanently on edge - all failure was assumed to be sabotage unless proven otherwise.

All told this is a fascinating historical read as long a you don't expect as much science and technology as in The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I also could have done with a bit less information on the spying activities of Harry Gold and other relatively minor figures.
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on 21 December 2015
My interest in the subject was sparked by a number of TV documentaries shown this year around the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombs being dropped (e.g. Race for the Superbomb, 1000 Days of Fear, The Day After Trinity, The Trial of J Robert Oppenheimer). Dark Sun is almost 600 pages and intertwines 3 main topics: development of the H bomb by the USA, development by the Soviet Union, and the role of the atom spies (e.g. Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass) in accelerating the Soviet programme. Each of these 3 could have been a book in its own right. It is a well-researched, authoritative book although I found it hard going at times as it jumped from the USA to the Soviet Union and then to the espionage. As somebody with a scientific background I would have liked more on the nuclear physics, chemistry, materials science etc associated with the bomb's development but of course much of that information is restricted. I recommend Dark Sun if you already have a strong interest in the subject. But try to watch the documentaries first, especially as some of them were made ~ 20 years ago and include interviews with many of the key scientists involved (e.g. Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, Harold Agnew).
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 July 2016
This book provides a fascinating history of how and why the H-bomb came to be developed as the Cold War got under way after WWII. I found two aspects particularly interesting. First, the technicalities involved in building a fusion weapon (relatively easy in principle, but much harder in practice). Although for obvious reasons many of the details have never been declassified, the author provides what feels like an an authoritative account of the problems and possible solutions involved. Of equal interest is the mix of personalities and politics closely associated with this original weapon of mass destruction, and what could be done to prevent (or win!) a seemingly inevitabie thermonuclear war.

The only slight downside is that a lot of the early part of the book is spent discussing the way Soviet spies passed on many of the secrets involved in development of the A-bomb, which (although a fascinating story and not irrelevant) need not have been presented in so much detail.
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