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The Making of the Atomic Bomb

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  9,892 ratings  ·  444 reviews
In rich, human, political, and scientific detail, here is the complete story of the nuclear bomb. Few 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 more than twenty-five years. What began merely as an interesting speculative problem in phy ...more
Hardcover, 1st Edition, 928 pages
Published 1986 by Simon and Schuster
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This is the most comprehensive non-fiction book you will NEVER read. What, why? Because it takes 30 hours to complete!! Look, I’m no speed reader, but neither am I a dullard. This book is so chock-full of compounding facts, so dense, that interpreting it takes devastating attention. This book must be paced like a thoroughbred. There’s not a picayune fact in 886 pages—and these pages are 7 x 9, small-bordered, 10 font, single-spaced, with substantial primary source quotation in 8 font. 60 pages o ...more
Nov 10, 2008 Matt rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Awesome people
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
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 more complete and authoritative work about one of mankind's most important inventions. When people speak of great human accompl
Erik Simon
One of the finest history books I've ever read, and THE book about the atomic bomb. It not only traces the history of the science behind the bomb, it also traces the history of modern warfare, showing how it became inevitable that leaders would annihilate civilians. Some of the science is pretty tough, but Rhodes writes in such a way that even I, a non-scientific person, understood the science with some hard, close reading.
This was the textbook for my freshman seminar at college. The class was titled 'The Manhattan Project: Studies in Science and Lessons for Mankind' and while it was not what I expected going in, it was generally pretty good; I liked my professor and my classmates and we had good discussions, so it was a positive experience. I was not, however, crazy about this as a textbook, at least for the class: Rhodes focuses a lot on the technical aspects of the bomb and only deals with the tremendous ethica ...more
Nov 14, 2007 Ralph rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
I put this book on my site, even though I read it over 20 years ago, because it had a great influence on me. I consider it one of the best history books I've ever read. Each chapter ends with a compelling paragraph that stunned me; almost like the last scene in an old serial movie. The books treats topics like, the rise of the Jewish scientists, the rise of modern warfare, the rise of the U.S. generals, the birth of modern nuclear physics, etc. It ends with the making of the bomb, not the war an ...more
The grand, encyclopedic, epic story of the atomic bomb program. Starts from WWI and continues until after the end of WWII. Includes short biographies of all of the major figures of the program, as well as a firm outline of the political situation which surrounded them. Harrowing detail of when the bomb itself was dropped, and what the creators thought during the while ordeal. Brilliant blend of history and science.
As everybody knows, after witnessing the first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the atom bomb project, quoted from the Bhagavad Gita: ‘now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds’. What’s less well known is that earlier that year, in conversation with fellow physicist Leo Szilard, Oppenheimer had said these words: ‘the atomic bomb is shit’. Well, quite.

What Oppenheimer had been getting at (according to Szilard) is that despite its
This has the reputation of being the book to read about the Manhattan Project, and having just finished it, I can't imagine one being better. Yes, it is very long. Yes, the narrative can feel a bit jumpy, especially in the first half. There are a lot of names being used, some of which never re-appear, and a lot of seemingly minor scientific experiments detailed exhaustively. And yes, Rhodes dedicates many pages to discussions that do not feel very relevant in 2013, but were very much so when it ...more
G.d. Brennan
I think this book is a touch overrated.

Having said that, I couldn't put it down.

"The Making of the Atomic Bomb" is incredibly well-researched; it's thought-provoking and deep, yet lively and literary. And make no mistake, it is well worth your while; its greatest sections and passages are as absorbing and exciting as anything I've ever read. (As a precocious 4th grader prone to fleeing the world by burying my nose in books, I'd read eagerly about the incredible feats of engineering and physics t
Richard Rhodes does a very impressive job of telling how we got to the atomic bomb. He starts in 1900 when Plank looked into a black box and found a new world. The Making of the Atomic Bomb explores the science that makes the bomb possible, the scientist who worked in breaking the atom, the politics which made people want to do it. In doing so it becomes one of the best introductions to quantum mechanics for the laymen. Much better than other books that try to join mysticism and science, Rhodes ...more
This is not light reading and if you are not at all interested in the history of science, much of it may be difficult. But don't get me wrong, it is a fascinating history of the bomb, the people and the circumstances that created it. Rhodes provides much detail and depth into multiple figures, politics, and related scientific projects.

This book is important reading because it is important to recognize the horror and the brilliance of what humankind is capable of, the responsibility that comes w
Un libro que habla sobre cómo llegó a fabricarse la primera bomba atómica y que empieza con la vida de los científicos que descubrieron las partículas subatómicas es, necesariamente, ambicioso. Si además tiene más de 1000 páginas tiene que ser completo.
Este lo es.
Naturalmente, no es un libro para todo el mundo. Si no te interesa ninguno de los temas principales del libro (historia de la ciencia, física, historia militar, historia contemporánea) difícilmente vas a poder digerir lo que se te viene
This is quite a book: part science text, part philosophy text, part biography, part literature. It provides a comprehensive technical review of the science behind the bomb, as well as an equally thorough dissection of the scientists, politicians and military men who bring the bomb to life, but the real genius is in the moral and philosophical undercurrent that weaves throughout. It would have been very easy to leave that out, and inclusion is what makes this a Pulitzer winner, a National Book Aw ...more
Dec 06, 2008 Bruce rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history-loving masochists
Browse the many reviews of Bomb and you will find many different variants on a laudatory theme. If you read works of historical nonfiction for any of the reasons this book has rightly earned praise – its thoroughness, attention to detail, exhaustive research, fanatical devotion to accuracy, and a coherent, compassionate, and moral reconstruction of the times, talents, motivations, science, and engineering that brought the first atomic weapons into existence, alongside a taste of the implications ...more
This is an exhaustive history of the bombs development., some 900 pages. The first half deals with the fundamental physics that makes nuclear weapons possible. The remainder deals with the actual development.
My previous understanding of the bomb history stemmed from a movie some 20 years ago. In this film Albert Einstein perceives the potential for the bomb based on his famous equation
E=MC squared. He quickly contacts President Roosevelt and FDR assigns a General Groves to develop the bomb ASAP
This one took some time to chunk through (789 large, fairly small-print pages), but I found it fascinating to read about the history and the people involved with the atomic bomb. It is a mix of history and biography, but not a biography of a single person. Rather it gives comprehensive insights into the lives of many scientists and physicists involved in the bomb while walking through the historical settings and events at the same time. Some of the stories from WWII were things I had never heard ...more
Excellent history not just of the making of the atomic bomb, but of twin tales of early 20th-century discoveries in physics and simultaneous evolution of total war between nation states that led to its development. Rhodes does a great job of delving into the pyschology of the scientists and relevant social currents as well as the technical aspects of the bomb's creations - though sometimes the details of the latter are followed so closely as to become a bit mind-numbing.

He does a good job of add
407 pages into the book (out of 700-some): this is surely a fascinating read, and on the plus side the handling of the physics is much more in-depth than one would expect from a basically historical narrative aimed at a wide audience. There are, however, several points that make the reading not as enjoyable as it would be otherwise:
- Small historical errors and inconsistencies. The Reichstag was not burned by the SA (but rather by a psychically unstable Dutch communist Marinus Vanderlubbe). Nevi
Richard Rhodes describes the theoretical origins of the bomb, the lab experiments, the building of the prototype, the test at Alamagordo, the training of the B-29 crews assigned to deliver the first two combat bombs and the missions themselves. There's much more. Rhodes, gifted with sharp psychological insight and a novelist's ability to convey character, reveals the personalities and emotional dynamics among the scientists and others responsible for conceiving, engineering, testing and ultimate ...more
John Schwabacher
This is a very comprehensive and interesting book. It covers many aspects of the subject, from early nuclear physics experiments, through political wranglings, to philosophical questions.

I've heard many of the physics stories before, but they're always worth hearing again if told competently. Most of the technical, engineering, and historical stuff was completely new to me, though.

I especially enjoyed talking to my father about this book: he was at Berkeley right after the Manhattan project and
Just finished this book this evening. It's not entirely what I was expecting -- the story of the Manhattan Project. Rather, it starts off with the history of nuclear physics from the turn of the 20th century and the discovery of radioactivity and continues through the close of WW2. I found the book to be absolutely fascinating and the only thing that keeps it from being a 5 star book is the fact that I got bogged down in the middle of part 2. By then I was 500 pages into the book and just gettin ...more
Zachary Rawlins
The very definition of grim - the science of the end of the world - a counterattack against the Nazis designed largely by Europe Jewish refugees in conjunction with their American compatriots. This book must have been the work of more years than I care to imagine - it is precise, thorough, and immaculate, filled with all the human and technical detail that one could possibly want.

Following the subject of the atomic bomb from its beginnings in physics thought experiments all the way through the a
Very good and interesting. I would use better grammar, but later!
For some weird reason, I suddenly became interested in the atomic bomb (seeing the Henry Moore sculpture in Chicago probably triggered it) and everything I looked up said this was the definitive book on the subject. It's really interesting because of its focus on the people behind the beginning of the atomic age and what life was like at the Manhattan Project. The chapters dealing with the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, using the first person accounts of the victims, are obviously unsettling ...more
This book was amazing in its breadth and depth. Beautifully and clearly written; although I still am unable to comprehend nuclear physics- not surprising after only reading one book on the topic.

The "Tongues of Fire" chapter was absolutely devastating; the book in general makes it far more difficult for me to answer the question, "what do you think about the atomic bomb?" And that's a good thing.

It also made me want to read in more detail about several of the scientists and events mentioned as
Alejandro Ramirez
Impresindible. Me lo recomendo Leonhace unos 15 años; el libro gano el permio Pulitzer, es un impresionante documental del desarrollo de la teoria atomica en los siglos XIX y XX, con fondo de la situacion politica en Europa y la segunda guerra mundial. Hay mil es de razones para leer este libro, algunas de ellas:

Puede ser leido como una biografia de un par de centenares de cientificos que cambiaron el curso de la humanidad (el mundo, tal como lo conocemos, solo pudo ser posible por la revolucion
I am so glad I read this book; I just don't know how to recommend it.

It's 882 pages long with several thousand footnotes. To say it is well-documented is an understatement. It is an amazing accomplishment.

The first half of the book traces the early days of atomic theory. If you have any interest at all in this subject, and know the difference between a neutron and an electron, it is fascinating. If you don't meet both of these criteria, you won't get through the first half.

The second half is abo
Finishing this book feels like an achievement in itself. In a way, the title is misleading. Rhodes' history is about far more than just the making of the atomic bomb. It's about everything that led up to it, including a good fifty years worth of history of physics. It's about the use and immediate aftermath of the atomic bomb. It's about, in a smaller sense, the politics that led up to and into the Cold War.

But most of all it's about people.

Rhodes goes to great length to make sure his readers ha
A historical account of roughly 50 years of physics and discovery culminating in the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meticulously reconstructed, Richard Rhodes does an excellent recounting of the discovery of the fundamental atom, the theories of fission, and ultimately the construction of the atom bomb. The rise of Hitler and the fleeing of physicists from Germany are inextricably linked.

Reading of the Manhattan Project and the aftermath of the bombing, it was heartening
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hay 2 40 Jan 31, 2013 10:23AM  
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Richard Lee Rhodes is an American journalist, historian, and author of both fiction and non-fiction (which he prefers to call "verity"), including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), and most recently, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007). He has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation a ...more
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“Before it is science and career, before it is livelihood, before even it is family or love, freedom is sound sleep and safety to notice the play of morning sun.” 20 likes
“For the scientist, at exactly the moment of discovery—that most unstable existential moment—the external world, nature itself, deeply confirms his innermost fantastic convictions. Anchored abruptly in the world, Leviathan gasping on his hook, he is saved from extreme mental disorder by the most profound affirmation of the real.” 5 likes
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