The Bomb: A Life
Gerard J. DeGroot
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Bombs are as old as hatred itself. But it was the twentieth century--one hundred years of incredible scientific progress and terrible war--that brought forth the Big One, the Bomb, humanity's most powerful and destructive invention. In The Bomb: A Life, Gerard DeGroot tells the story of this once unimaginable weapon that--at least since 8:16 a.m. on August 6, 1945--has haunted our dreams and threatened our existence.
The Bomb has killed hundreds of thousands outright, condemned many more to lingering deaths, and made vast tracts of land unfit for life. For decades it dominated the psyches of millions, becoming a touchstone of popular culture, celebrated or decried in mass political movements, films, songs, and books. DeGroot traces the life of the Bomb from its birth in turn-of-the-century physics labs of Europe to a childhood in the New Mexico desert of the 1940s, from adolescence and early adulthood in Nagasaki and Bikini, Australia and Kazakhstan to maturity in test sites and missile silos around the globe. His book portrays the Bomb's short but significant existence in all its scope, providing us with a portrait of the times and the people--from Oppenheimer to Sakharov, Stalin to Reagan--whose legacy still shapes our world.
to their nuclear arsenal. As a result, scientists in the Soviet Union felt themselves under siege. We were always told that we must not lag behind. … an absolutely insane task was set for us … We must have everything Americans have. There must not be a slightest gap. And it was considered that as soon as … new information about … work in this or that direction became known, we absolutely had to do the same thing … That’s what happened. And it resulted in the mindless arms race. The leadership
isolated community, eccentricities flourished like rare plants in a hothouse. Teller, for instance, played the piano to clear his head of confusing ideas, a remedy which annoyed neighbours since he mainly did it at night. When a colleague fell ill, friends searched medical books in the library for a diagnosis, instead of consulting on-site doctors. As eminent scientists, they assumed that medicine was a cinch. Oppenheimer had continually to remind colleagues that the official language was
the calutrons at Oak Ridge, particularly given the difficulties encountered with gaseous diffusion. Groves immediately commissioned a thermal diffusion plant, which was built in just ninety days. In 1939 Bohr had warned that pulling a sufficient amount of U-235 out of uranium ore was impossible unless a country was willing to turn itself into a huge factory. Teller remembered this warning when Bohr visited late in the war. ‘I was prepared to say, “You see …”’, Teller recalled. ‘But before I
Potsdam. But die-hard Truman supporters strenuously reject the notion of a hidden agenda. Blackett found this insistence rather strange, ‘a curious preference to be considered irresponsible, even brutal, but at all costs not clever’.19 Perhaps indeed the bombing was clever. Soviet involvement in the war would have meant Soviet involvement in the peace, thus rendering the reconstruction of Japan a great deal more complicated. The deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a huge tragedy. But, had the
must understand that with the discovery of atomic energy the fates of all nations have become very closely intertwined. Only international cooperation, the exchange of scientific discoveries, and the internationalization of scientific achievements, can lead to the elimination of wars, which means the elimination of the very necessity to use the atomic bomb. This is the only correct method of defense. … Either reason will win, or a devastating war, resembling the end of mankind.11 Bohr’s rather