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The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939-1949
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The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939-1949

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  302 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI6's Farm Hall transcripts, coded soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian ...more
Hardcover, 584 pages
Published April 13th 2010 by Pegasus Books (first published March 31st 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 872)
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Sean Mulroy
Jan 08, 2015 Sean Mulroy rated it liked it
Workmanlike, decent overview of the dawn of the atomic age. Not as comprehensive as the two Rhodes books covering the atomic bomb and the hydrogen. My quibbles arose from the attempt to structure the story as the titular "war" between the groups of physicists. While the fear of a nazi bomb may have been what spurred the creation of the Manhattan Project, it's very clear early on that its a one sided affair and shifts focus to the Soviet espionage efforts. This is presented in a straightforward m ...more
Jul 15, 2015 Don rated it really liked it
This book covers the development of the atomic bomb from the point of the first “what if?” theoretical thought about nuclear fission up until present day. The author does not just look at America’s race to develop the bomb but also reviews what was happening in Germany, Britain, Canada, the USSR and elsewhere.
Divided into four sections the book covers the recruitment of nuclear physicists as World War 2 begins and the status of early nuclear research in all countries. This is followed by a revi
Jun 19, 2010 Russ rated it really liked it
Picked this book up while incredibly bored when I was stuck for two days at the Omaha airport. Am very glad I did. This is a well-written book detailing the development of the atomic bomb.

As a science geek who recently took a quantum physics class, I was amazed at the number of names I recognized. Pretty much every famous physicist from that era (memorialized in their named equations, methods) makes a cameo in the book and was somehow involved with bomb development.

The book also does a remarkab
Apr 10, 2015 Russell rated it really liked it
I've read lots of books about the Manhattan Project, and one each on the German and Japanese efforts to develop atomic weapons, but this book brings those threads together in one place. If you only read one book about the US effort, I recommend Richard Rhodes' authoritative The Making of the Atomic Bomb instead, but if you have time for two, this is the other one you should look into.
TheIron Paw
Jan 18, 2016 TheIron Paw rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, history
I picked up this book because it appeared to be about science and history. But it went much further than that. Not only do you get the science behind the bomb, and the history of its development, but you also get to know the various scientists involved. But wait! There's more: espionage, spies, daring commando raids, and political maneuvering. Thanks to the release of many secret documents in the 1990's we get to see the development of the bomb and of the cold war from the perspective of the U.S ...more
Richard Milton
Feb 02, 2016 Richard Milton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How close did Hitler come to an atomic bomb? The disturbing answer is “a lot closer than you might think.”

The received story of German nuclear development in World War II goes something like this. Hitler and the Nazis didn’t even come close to developing an atomic bomb. They lost many of their brilliant scientists anyway because they were Jewish and fled to Britain or America because of Nazi persecution. Those German scientists who remained were way behind their counterparts in Britain and the U
Icon Books
Nov 17, 2011 Icon Books rated it it was amazing
Shelves: popular-science
The first fully realised popular account of the race between Nazi Germany, Britain, America and the Soviet Union to build atomic weapons.

Drawing on declassified material such as MI6's Farm Hall transcripts, coded Soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the Soviet archive, Jim Baggott's monumental book spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to 'Joe-1', the first Soviet atomic bomb test in August
Christopher Blosser
Jul 06, 2012 Christopher Blosser rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This well-written history covers the late 1930s research into uranium fission, the beginning of the British and American nuclear programs, the German nuclear developments, and the soviet program. It actually covers some events after 1949, such as the development of the hydrogen (fusion) bombs and the Cuban missile crisis.
The German phyicists don't appear to have been morally opposed to bomb development, but were rather more focused on getting funding for their research under the cover of milita
Apr 26, 2014 Barbara rated it it was amazing
It is with the privilege of familial legacy linked to this story of the race between US, Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Soviet Union to create the most destructive weapon ever imagined that prompted me to pick it up. I am glad I have. The backstory is haunting and all to0 real. My uncle was a nuclear physicist involved with security clearance WWII, friends with the eminent scientists and Nobel laureates that I even shared clambakes on the beaches near the Brookhaven Labs. My uncle used to take me ...more
Oct 13, 2013 Jack rated it really liked it
This work is exhaustively comprehensive. From the various earliest discovery of energy released from fissioned atoms, to the coining of the term "fission" to the development of the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs of WWII and finally to the arms race and the adopted concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, this book covers it all.

Written with an engaging style, we meet all the primary actors in this race to develop these weapons (and peaceful power) and we even get a good look at the politics
Aug 04, 2015 Jonele rated it really liked it
Very thorough history of the building of the bomb, the physics behind it and even a bit of espionage!
Dec 19, 2012 Sean rated it really liked it
A gripping read, with an outstanding cast of characters. Truly terrifying to learn that the world literally fell into the discovery of nuclear fission, but quickly realized its deadly potential. The discovery came at a time when the world was at war, casting the United States in a race with the Nazi’s that would lead to the building and dropping of the atomic bomb. If it wasn’t an actual historic retelling of events, the First War of Physics might make a great spy thriller. A great book for anyo ...more
Petar Tomov
Aug 15, 2015 Petar Tomov rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I started reading this book after I have read the Hitler's Scientists by John Cornwell. I find The First War of Physics very well written, with plenty of details on the physical phenomena involved in the nuclear chain reactions. The author also gives the main actors points of view, which may not coincide with the politics at the time of the events. A thorough background research has obviously been done, judging from the numerous references at the end of each chapter. The book is definitely a mus ...more
May 14, 2012 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Really thought out, and in all honesty, quite frightening towards the end. It charts the trials and tribulations that the scientific community had to wrestle with to deal with the technical issues that surrounded the inital development the aftermath of the bomb, as well as agtermath of the nuclear detonations - both over Japan and the subsequent antmospheric testing.

It finished off with an anaylsis of the Cuban Missile crisis, and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty that is still in force for b
Bob Finch
Feb 10, 2015 Bob Finch marked it as to-read
Shelves: science, history, stalled
I've had to set this book aside. After reading the compelling history on this subject written by Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, I found Baggott's version a bit of a let down. I am a big fan of Baggot's earlier book on quantum theory (The Meaning of Quantum Theory), so I was a little surprised not to like this more. But Rhode's books was so masterfully written, that I think it unfair to try and read almost any other book on the same subject too soon after reading Rhodes.
Tom V
Nov 09, 2012 Tom V rated it really liked it
This is an engrossing read, and clearer (to me, at least) than the previously read Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes, which is the measuring stick by which all A-Bomb books might be measured.

The facts and theories are a little more "dumbed-down" and as such, more accessible. You don't need a degree to read this one, but it is just as compelling and lively.

If you are looking for a concise, readable history of the Manhattan Project of WWII, this is your book.

4 Stars.
John Tesmer
Apr 23, 2014 John Tesmer rated it really liked it
Well written, non technical discussion
May 23, 2013 Shannon rated it really liked it
I learned a lot about how many people, and countries, were involved in developing the nuclear bomb, and nuclear energy. On top of the chemistry, physics and history, he interspersed a bunch of cool spy stories. Kind of a tough read at times, but quite educational.
Bill Kemp
Sep 29, 2015 Bill Kemp rated it really liked it
Fascinating to read how the atomic bomb program progressed in Britain, Russia, and Germany -- other books I have read only looked at US. Author does a good job in interleaving the different stories.
Mike Rodman
Apr 18, 2012 Mike Rodman rated it really liked it
At times the physics was a bit dense, but generally an interesting read. This is one of those books that has benefited from more liberal reviews of classified documents.
Feb 11, 2013 Dennis rated it it was amazing
I liked this book alot and would recommend it to anyone interested in history, WW2 or science.
Janver Holly
Sep 13, 2013 Janver Holly rated it it was ok
A relatively ordinary telling of the story
Steven Williams
Apr 15, 2014 Steven Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good. Very informative.
Nov 11, 2012 Nick rated it it was ok
FieryJack marked it as to-read
Oct 20, 2016
Alan marked it as to-read
Oct 18, 2016
Jim Edwards
Jim Edwards rated it liked it
Oct 17, 2016
Cody marked it as to-read
Oct 15, 2016
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Jim Baggott completed his doctorate in physical chemistry at the University of Oxford and his postgraduate research at Stanford University.
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