It was with some trepidation that I started to read this book It is such a lengthy book, and I didn t anticipate enjoying it very much I thought that it would be emphasize mundane details about the Manhattan Project But, I was happily surprised by the scope of the book The Manhattan Project actually takes up less than a third of its pages.The first third of the book is about the discovery of modern physics, and the lives of scientists who played a major part in the discovery The book examines the peeling back of the onion of modern physics, much in the way of a detective story Modern physics involves the structure of the atom, quantum mechanics, and relativity Both the physics and the personal lives of the revolutionary scientists are described, in great detail Richard Rhodes has a talent for weaving together the threads of a complex story These threads follow lines of reasoning, experiments and theoretical work.The second third of the book describes how scientists came to the realization that fission is possible, using a chain reaction with neutrons This portion of the book also describes the darkening of Europe due to the rise of the Nazis Some of the book was devoted to the rise of Antisemitism in Germany, and the resultant flight of Jewish scientists out of the continent This phase of the book is important, as it helps explain the number of Jewish scientists who worked on the atomic bomb.The last third of the book described the Manhattan Project not so much the project itself, but the realization in Great Britain and the United States, that it was necessary to develop an atomic bomb It was known that Germany and Japan were working on the bomb, and if either country beat the Allies to its development, that would spell out a very bad ending to the war.I learned a tremendous amount from this book, and there were several aspects of the book that truly stick in my mind The role of serendipity played a part in the discovery of Enrico Fermi and his colleagues The found that slow neutrons increase radioactivity than fast ones, while doing an experiment on a wooden table Then the repeated the experiment on a marble table and noticed a marked reduction in radioactivity This led to a greater understanding that neutron speeds, inhibited by the presence of hydrogen in the wooden table, were an important factor in creating chain reactions.Several characters played a very central part in the book of course, General Leslie Groves, Leo Szilard and Robert Oppenheimer played central roles in the story But, the most interesting character was the Danish scientist Niels Bohr He won the Nobel Prize for his work in understanding the strucutre of the atom and quantum mechanics Besides this, he was politically active He went to President Roosevelt and to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to try to convince them to share the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union He was concerned about the political balance of power after World War II His ideas were dismissed by both leaders He also played a key role in saving thousands of Jews in Denmark, by persuading the King of Sweden to allow them to escape into Sweden, to avoid capture by the Nazis.Some readers question why this book needs to be so long, so detailed, and sometimes describing events that appear to be so tangential to the main story But this epic book brings the various threads together, and in retrospect these threads all seem vital to the story line He weaves together the personalities of the scientists, their experiments and discoveries, and the politics on national and international scales, that were so important at the time Richard Rhodes explains why both the United States and Great Britain found it necessary to develop, and finally to drop the atomic bombs on Japan.The book brings so many anecdotes with important messages to the main story line The making of the atomic bomb did not occur in a single place at a single time It evolved over continents and half a century The technical problems were formidable, and the political issues perhaps equally difficult. If you want to impress women, read French poetry.If you want to impress my dad, read something with a title like A Hero Will Rise A World War II POW s Introspection About the War in the Pacific, the Bataan Death March, General McArthur, Iwo Jima, and P 38s Oh, and John Wayne.If you want to impress a geeky engineer, read The Making of the Atomic Bomb I can t imagine a complete and authoritative work about one of mankind s most important inventions When people speak of great human accomplishments in the 20th century, they invariably reference von Braun and the race to the moon This book shows that the development of the atomic bomb was, while morally questionable, arguably just as amazing in its engineering and scientific prowess.Rhodes does not ignore any aspect of the process This book is a scientific history, a political history, a biography, and a technical manual He begins in the 19th century at the advent of nuclear physics, and walks through the lives of its significant contributors He goes into often excrutiating details about the development of the first nuclear reactors, the early life of Oppenheimer, and the development of the amazing military industrial complex required to create the small amount of material needed for the three atom bombs detonated during World War II one test unit and the two used over Japan Rhodes makes the people involved seem human and manages to mostly avoid social commentary, merely presenting the facts as they were.This is truly an amazing book If you read it, I suggest keeping a running list of names there are a LOT of people referenced I plan on reading this book again sometime, although it did take me three months to get through it the first time. The Austrian physicist Eugene Wigner emigrated to the United States and eventually found a teaching job at the University of Wisconsin Madison He met a young woman, Amelia Frank, and the two were soon married Then she got ill As told to Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Wigner recalled I tried to conceal it from her that she had cancer and that there was no hope for her surviving She was in a hospital in Madison and then she went to see her parents and I went with her but I didn t want to stay with her parents, of course, because I was, after all, a stranger to her parents I went for a little while away to Michiganand then I came back and saw her in her bed at her parents And she told me essentially that she knows that she is close to death She said, Should I tell you where the suitcases are So she knew when she talked to me I tried to conceal it from her because I felt that it would be better if a reasonably young person does not realize that she is doomed Of course, we are all doomed.To me, this excerpt encapsulates Rhodes Pulitzer Prize winning opus The theme of doom runs like a through line in this story, which is not surprising, considering the end result of the making of the atomic bomb was the atomization of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, and the pushing to the brink of the world entire But it also brings the story to its human dimensions If I were giving this book a blurb, I d say It s the most humanistic physics textbook you ll ever read Making combines all the best elements of narrative history, rigorous scholarship, and technical writing Even if you were terrible in physics, as I was, you will be able to understand the science behind this most horrible of all inventions Moreover, you will delve deep into the lives of the mostly men who dreamed it, designed it, built it, guarded it, dropped it, were saved by it, and were turned to dust by it You meet them all Szilard, Teller, Fermi, Lawrence, Groves, Tibbets, a grocer from Hiroshima who remembered the survivors I can still picture them in my mind like walking ghostsThey didn t look like people of this worldThey had a very special way of walking very slowlyI myself was one of them The two towering characters of this story are Niels Bohr and J Robert Oppenheimer Bohr is featured heavily in the first third of this book, which limns a clear history of physics Bohr s contributions to atomic research included the Bohr model of the atom what a coincidence that he discovered something named after him , the liquid drop model of the nucleus, and identification of Uranium 235 The latter portions of the book are dominated by the American Prometheus himself, Oppenheimer He was a brilliant man in his own right, but his main contribution to the Manhattan Project was to manage the greatest collection of scientific minds the world perhaps has ever seen He was also a gift to future historians a man acutely aware of his place in time, his position at the juncture of events a man who understood what they d done before anyone else When the Trinity test took place at Alamogordo, it was Oppenheimer who famously quoted the ancient Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds While Making appears daunting, and its unfortunate title makes it sound like a how to guide, it is actually a crisp, quick read It s divided into three parts part one covers the history of physics part two takes care of the construction of the bomb, including General Leslie Groves efforts to keep the thing a secret he failed those darn Russians knew all about itrearing their heads and all part three tells of the woe unleashed upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki It is this last part that will stick with you the longest In telling of the bombings, Rhodes makes an effective stylistic decision he steps almost completely out of the picture He lets Tibbets and his boys talk about dropping Little Boy, then he quotes the Manhattan Project Study on the bombing Because the heat in the flash comes in such a short time, there is not time for any cooling to take place and the temperature of a person s skin can be raised 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the first millisecond at a distance of 2.3 miles Then he lets the survivors speak in their own words It is chilling a haunting scene plucked from Stradano s depiction of Dante s hell Every so often, one book or another appears to debate whether or not the bomb should have been dropped it s no use debating whether it should have been built the damnable thing about science, like life, is that it moves forward on its own power Certain factions are glad we dropped it Twice Because it saved American lives possibly Certain factions think this it s another in a long line of American bred genocides, starting with the Indians, running through the Philippines, and culminating in the wholesale crisping of half a million Japanese women and children They say it wasn t necessary debatable Rhodes doesn t make any judgments He lets the Japanese survivors have their say But he also tells the story of the American troops preparing for the potential invasion of Japan He quotes one young American officer s remembrance We were going to live The destruction they d wrought led many of the scientists involved to back away from their invention Rhodes gives a taste of this in the epilogue, though you ll have to read his sequel Dark Sun to hear the moral debate that soon sprang up It is Oppenheimer, always quotable, who sums it up, and provides this book its epitaph Taken as a story of human achievement, and human blindness, the discoveries in the sciences are among the great epics. Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worldsOppenheimer s translation from Bhagavad Gita in Richard Rhodes, Making of the Atomic BombNow we are all sons of bitchesRichard Bainbridge, quoted in Richard Rhodes, Making of the Atomic BombI use the world masterpiece with a certain reservation It is overused Abused even It is a word that can easily lose its power if diffused into too many works by too many authors However, I can say unabashedly that this book, this history, is a masterpiece of narrative history It is powerful, inspirational, sad, detailed, thrilling, chilling It has hundreds of characters Some like the early physicists almost seem like lucky gods born at the right time How can you not love Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Ernest Rutherford, Marie Curie These giants seemed to fall into the right spot in history with all the brain cells needed But on top of this, they were amazing men and women kind and nobel They seem to possess not just the smarts to deal with post Newtonian physics, but a certain amount of poetry and philosophy They seem like the Founding Fathers and mothers of the 20th century and the modern age There are also the smaller gods The gods of war Oppenheimer, Fermi, Teller, etc Richard Rhodes covers them all He explores the development of nuclear physics without losing the reader, he follows the development of the bomb and the enrichment of uranium and production of plutonium He details the work and the failures in Japan and German He provides a fair assessment of the environment and the horror of World War 2 He literally leaves few stones unturned The bombs when they come seem both anticipated and surprising I felt a pressure in my shoulders and neck as I read about the Trinity tests and the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki But Rhodes doesn t let the reader off the hook He spend almost 20 pages detailing the oral histories of those who saw the effects of the bombs first hand in Hiroshima Those who lived to tell the horrible tale.If there are heroes in this tale, they are always heroes with a dark asterisk, or Quixotic heroes Bohr trying to convince politicians to take risks with peace, to convince war leaders to think beyond the dropping of a bomb Szilard trying desperately to convince scientists to remain quiet in the beginning to avoid Germany finding out, and later working to convince England and the US to include the Soviet Union to avoid an arms race There is Oppenheimer and his struggles with the fate that his gifts provided for him to midwifing this rough beast into existence It is a noble and a sad and a horrific and a beautiful book all at once and it deserved all of the awards Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award it won I have read hundreds of nonfiction books and thousand of books, and only a dozen may be better.And I m still not done I want to add A calamity of coincidences.This book is heavy, laden with intricate detail and the minutiae that had to coalesce to create, and detonate the first atomic bombs.It took me 3 months to read this weighty tome, the last chapter was especially nauseating It s difficult to give a book like this on the mass murder of thousands of civilians a five star rating, but Rhodes did an impeccable job tying together all the threads that wove this dark tapestry in world history From the men who discovered, and decided to build the atomic bomb once set in motion the end was almost inescapable Could the Allies have won WWII without it Were the justifications sound All we have is conjecture and opinion, the deed was done This book lays out the entire surrounding history in a dry, matter of fact way devoid of judgement Rhodes is an exceptional historian and the details are important lest we ever forget and repeat such atrocities Full RTC For thousands of years man s capacity to destroy was limited to spears, arrows and fire 120 years ago we learned to release chemical energy e.g TNT , and 70 years ago we learned to be 100 million times efficient by harnessing the nuclear strong force energy with atomic weapons, first through fission and then fusion We ve also miniaturized these brilliant inventions and learned to mount them on ICBMs traveling at Mach 20 Unfortunately, we live in a universe where the laws of physics feature a strong asymmetry in how difficult it is to create and to destroy This observation is also not reserved to nuclear weapons generally, technology monotonically increases the possible destructive damage per person per dollar This is my favorite resolution to the Fermi paradox.But I digress Rhodes The Making of the Atomic Bomb is a wonderful and exhaustingly detailed case study of the development of a transformative technology the atomic bomb The book is very thorough and covers the initial discoveries in nuclear physics, the early experiments, the government s intervention, the massive Manhattan project and its parallels in 4 other world powers, the associated secrecy, diplomacy, sabotage and espionage, and finally culminates with death and destruction at Hiroshima Nagasaki and the associated political and ethical dilemmas.I ll summarize the book to give an idea of what it s about and highlight some parts I found interesting.The story of the bomb begins circa 1938 against the backdrop of an imminent second world war with a series of rapid discoveries that showed that if you shoot a neutron into a Uranium 235 isotope atom, the atom rapidly becomes unstable, breaks up and gives off 1 a lot of energy and 2 an average of 2.5 neutrons A number of scientists immediately realized that if you chain this effect you d make a bomb Making an atomic bomb therefore amounts to 1 isolating the U 235 isotope from natural Uranium which is mostly 99.3% an un fissionable U 238 , and 2 shooting one handful of U 235 into another at a high speed with some conventional explosive Alternatively, a completely separate path was discovered you could transform Uranium to Plutonium which is much easier to separate and create a bomb using a complex implosion mechanism Not knowing which path to take, the US ended up pursuing both a U 235 bomb Little Boy and a Plutonium bomb Fat Man with their entirely separate industrial processes Amusingly, both paths converged within 3 days of each other in the summer of 1945, and the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima Nagasaki respectively This terrifying display of technological superiority forced Japan to accept an unconditional surrender and ended the second world war.It was quite interesting to follow the political commitment of each world power in response to the scientific developments The US established a committee in 1939 to investigate the potential of building a nuclear bomb but it crawled at a snail s speed for 3 years until almost half of the second world war was over, mostly due to the incompetence of key individuals e.g Lyman Briggs, who sat on the UK s MAUD report, or possibly Enrico Fermi who in an early meeting with Admiral Hopper cited the necessary critical mass as possibly being on the order of a small sun when he knew better However, with the intervention of Oliphant et al the US finally stirred in 1942 and started the Manhattan project As for the other countries, paraphrasing, the UK was like Here US, we did a lot of the theory work but we re kind of busy dealing with Germany over here , Germany was like This isn t going to be ready in 3 5 year time horizon and we re kind of in a lot of trouble, so we re going to poke at it a bit at most Also, our anti semitism cost us half of all nuclear physicists so that wasn t ideal , Japan was like We can try our best but we don t really have the resources , and the Soviet Union was like We re kind of behind here so we re going to go all out on espionage The Manhattan project was a spectacular display of national technical achievement Niels Bohr has said that building the bomb can never be done unless you turn the United States into one huge factory Luckily, it wasn t nearly as bad In a few years, The Manhattan Project took 50B 2016 dollars, which was about 0.4% of the US GDP in its peak or only about 9 days of the total war spending In its peak it employed about 125,000 people about 0.1% of all workforce and grew to be about as large as the 1945 US automobile industry Most of its complexity went into the laborious process of isolating U 235 Plutonium from natural Uranium Once the infrastructure was in place it was possible to produce several atomic bombs per month.The bombs were not ready in time for the defeat of Germany in 1945, but Truman decided to use the bombs on Japan to 1 prevent further loss of American lives in face of Japan that was deeply dug in and clearly unwilling to surrender and, as is hinted at, 2 to justify the costs of the project The Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima and killed an estimated 70K people eventually 200K by 5 years The Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki a few days later and caused 60% of that What I did not realize was that these casualties were large but not astronomical For example, a single day of bombing Tokyo with conventional explosives killed 100K people and injured 1M What I also didn t know is that Liutenant General Leslie Groves who was in charge of the Manhattan Project was strongly in favor of dropping one of the bombs on Kyoto, the serene Rome of Japan established back in 793 Luckily, his plan was vetoed by the Secretary of War Stimson who refused to bomb the city due to its cultural significance What the hell, Leslie Unbelievable.As I am a scientist myself, I was particularly curious about the extent to which the nuclear scientists who conceived and designed the bomb influenced the ethical political discussions Unfortunately, it is clearly the case that the scientists were quickly marginalized and, in effect, told to shut up and just help build the bomb From the very start, Roosevelt explicitly wanted policy considerations restricted to a small group that excluded any scientists As some of the prominent examples of scientists trying to influence policy, Bohr advocated for establishing an Open World Consortium and sharing information about the bomb with the Soviet Union, but this idea was promptly shut down by Churchill In this case it s not clear what effect it would have had and, in any case, the Soviets already knew a lot through espionage Bohr also held the seemingly naive notion that scientists should continue publishing all nuclear research during the second world war as he felt that science should be completely open and rise above national disputes Szilard strongly opposed this openness internationally, but advocated for openness within the Manhattan project for sake of efficiency This outraged Groves who was obsessed with secrecy In fact, Szilard was almost arrested, suspected to be a spy, and placed under a comical surveillance that mostly uncovered his frequent visits to a chocolate store.As a last curious historical note, World War 2 came at exactly the time when the very last conventional war could be fought Given the advances in nuclear physics, starting a conflict a few years after 1939 would have been impossible due to the danger of all out nuclear war in which everyone loses I had also often thought about what would have happened if Germany did not execute Operation Barbarossa and open the Eastern front with the Soviet Union, which could have bought it extra time and resources to cause havoc elsewhere in Europe North Africa This book provides the answer the US nuclear weapon program was so far ahead of the German program that even if the war dragged on longer, Germany would have been reduced to irradiated ash.It is almost impossible to do justice to this tome, so let me conclude by saying that the story includes awesome nuclear physics, science superheros, fanatical supervillans, massive factories appearing in the desert, political intrigue, British commandos on secret missions, explosions, oh and it all actually happened Great read, 5 5.Additional Reading Operation Epsilon, Captured Nazi Scientists at Farm Hall learning about the US dropping the Atomic Bomb transcripts Very interesting reading that features Heisenberg, Hahn et al confronting the fact that US built and used nuclear weapons. Here For The First Time, In Rich, Human, Political, And Scientific Detail, Is The Complete Story Of How The Bomb Was Developed, From The Turn Of The Century Discovery Of The Vast Energy Locked Inside The Atom To The Dropping Of The First Bombs On JapanFew Great Discoveries Have Evolved So Swiftly Or Have Been So Misunderstood From The Theoretical Discussions Of Nuclear Energy To The Bright Glare Of Trinity There Was A Span Of Hardly Than Twenty Five Years What Began As Merely An Interesting Speculative Problem In Physics Grew Into The Manhattan Project, And Then Into The Bomb With Frightening Rapidity, While Scientists Known Only To Their Peers Szilard, Teller, Oppenheimer, Bohr, Meitner, Fermi, Lawrence, And Yon Neumann Stepped From Their Ivory Towers Into The LimelightRichard Rhodes Takes Us On That Journey Step By Step, Minute By Minute, And Gives Us The Definitive Story Of Man S Most Awesome Discovery And Invention Making of the Atomic Bomb, Pulitzer Prize winner in 1988, was a well researched and comprehensive history exploring the making of the atomic bomb, beginning with World War I, the genesis of the Manhattan Project and continuing through the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing an end to World War II Rhodes divides the book into three parts the first section exploring the history of nuclear physics from the discovery of radioactivity at the end of the nineteenth century It also explores the background of the scientists, including Bohr, Fermi, Teller, Oppenheimer, Lawrence, and Szilard, who would later come to be an integral part of the Manhattan Project The second section concentrated on the actual making of the atomic bomb as well as the scope of the Manhattan Project featuring Oppenheimer s unique talent directing the lab at Los Alamos The third section explores the final steps in preparing the atomic bomb for delivery as well as exploring the fears of many of the scientists This book ends with the devastation and utter destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in excruciating detail as well as in vivid photographs This is an important book for all of us Robert Oppenheimer oversaw all this activity with self evident competence and an outward composure that almost everyone came to depend on Oppenheimer was probably the best lab director I have ever seen, Teller repeats, because of the great mobility of his mind, because of his successful effort to know about practically everything important invented in the laboratory, and also because of his unusual psychological insight into other people which, in the company of physicists, was very much the exception Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds I suppose we all thought that, one way or another. Incredibly thorough This book features everything, the science, history of every single discovery and person related to nuclear physics, the politics, the Manhattan project, the dropping of the bomb, testimonies of the people it was dropped on I compliment the author for adding this in, it makes sure to make the point that this is not just a bigger bomb , and polices after the A bomb was dropped to the first test of the H bomb I have to say this book tested my capacity for retaining so much information, but I somehow succeeded and learned a great deal, but I admit I will have to reread the part about discovery and creation of plutonium I see what the book Crystal Fire was inspired by, and the same warning I gave in that review still applies even so in this book. Science history at this level of breadth and depth does than just add to the details it changes your fundamental understanding of science and history Most science history tends to give the impression that science advances with giant leaps of inspiration by rare geniuses, but this book shows that science is a cumulative accretion of countless incremental insights This book illustrates other profundities of science history, for example, that the role of the experimentalists, like Rutherford and Fermi, are often as crucial as that of the theorist Another that the familiar hypothetico deductive method isn t exactly how science works in real life often, experiments are done on a hunch, without a hypothesis to falsify, and often hunches persist long after they ve been falsified These points are only appreciated by delving into the details at the level this book does.With such profound insights into the philosophy of science available, it is a shame that the author chose instead to grasp at lofty sentiments about the nature of war and weapons of mass destruction Of course, in a book about the atom bomb, such discussions are obligatory, and it s logical for this to be the focus of the philosophical discussions in the book But the position that the author chose to argue specifically, Bohr s conviction that the surest guarantee of peace in a post nuclear world would have been for the USA to share its knowledge with Russia is frankly nonsensical, and in historical hindsight, mistaken.The author is clearly deeply interested in the philosophy and psychology of the characters, and he s not afraid to take an opinionated position on such matters The background about Bohr s existentialism was interesting but somewhat puzzling, and I found the parts about complementarity and the descriptions of the endless policy meetings, especially in the later chapters quite boring He should have focused on the science because that s where he excels He is a master at explaining technical details of the science and technology, and I was able to follow the technical discussions and learn an enormous amount about nuclear physics and chemical processes.Another weakness of Rhodes is that his style unnecessarily difficult to follow He gives quotes without attribution He uses acronyms without defining them I was sometimes able to deduce them from context, like HE High Explosives His sentence structure is often confusing he likes to interrupt them with pairs of dashes He ll use non chronological narrative, and then specify dates without the year He ll introduce a character briefly, and then not mention him until much later lots of turning to the index to remind myself who was that person All this makes for slow and difficult reading.Overall, the book works better as a history of science than a history of war and politics It s exciting at times, but boring or confusing at others A flawed masterpiece, but a classic, nonetheless.