In this encyclopedic work, Richard Rhodes ambitiously sets to document one of the largest scientific and engineering efforts of modern times - the creation of the atomic bomb by American scientists and engineers during World War II. The book has won numerous awards since it's publishing in 1986, including the Pulitzer prize for general non-fiction in 1988. Far from your usual lightweight pop-science reading, this book is huge and packed with details. 800 large pages delve into the history of the bomb in every imaginable aspect - scientific, human, political and what not. For example, this book contains one of the most detailed and well-written histories of modern physics (mainly focusing on nuclear and particle physics, naturally) I've ever read. The lives, characters, and works of most preeminent physics who've shaped this field are described in great detail. Many of the important experiments and papers which laid the theoretical foundations for nuclear fission are described, with the level of detail becoming lower only after the beginning of the Manhattan project, when most of the research was classified. Sometimes the details are taken too far, however. For example, World War I is described in dozens of pages, although in the great total of the history of the bomb it probably doesn't play that big a part. Also, since a large percentage of the scientists involved with the development of the bomb and the research that made it possible were Jews, Rhodes didn't spare half a chapter on retelling the history of the Jewish people in Europe in the past few centuries. While personally I found this part very interesting, I'm not sure it added a lot of value to the average reader. Another thing I liked is the interesting description of the huge industrial undertaking the project required. I'm a fan of "economies of scale" reading about how big engineering projects are done, so reading this was very illuminating. To conclude, this is a very good book, but only if you're sufficiently interested in the topic and have enough patience to read it. Its size is nothing short of monumental, and you can finish 4-5 average pop-science book in the time it will require to finish this one.


comments powered by Disqus