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The Making of the Atomic Bomb

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  17,979 ratings  ·  1,041 reviews
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 Japan.

Few great discoveries have evolved so swiftly -- or have been so misunderstood. From the theoretical discussions of nuclea
Paperback, 886 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Simon & Schuster (first published September 18th 1986)
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Average rating 4.36  · 
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 ·  17,979 ratings  ·  1,041 reviews

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Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
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 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Awesome people
Shelves: science, world-war-ii
“Turning, diving, circling back to watch, the crew of the Enola Gay missed the early fireball; when they looked again, Hiroshima smothered under a pall…Jacob Beser, the electronic countermeasures officer, an engineering student at Johns Hopkins before he enlisted, found an image from the seashore for the turmoil he saw. ‘That city was burning for all she was worth. It looked like…well, did you ever go to the beach and stir up the sand in shallow water and see it all billow up? That’s what it loo ...more
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 examin
Brett C
Jun 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
This was a highly detailed account of the creation of the atomic bomb. Richard Rhodes set the standard for this subject in my opinion. The story was told from multiple angles with scientific, historical, and biographical but it all connects to deliver an epic story. The science behind nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, and radiochemistry were discussed to great length. Explained in detail was the history and weaponization of uranium (isotopes U235 and U238, uranium enrichment and uranium hexafl ...more
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, war, politics
Finishing this Pulitzer Prize winning book turned out to be quite a slog.There is way too much detail about theoretical physics and technicalities involved in making the atomic bomb.It is almost a technical manual.

In addition,there are details about the lives of the scientists who worked on the project,but those are not particularly compelling either.

The liveliest portion of the book deals with the actual attack on Hiroshima.The tales of the victims are harrowing,but this portion is all too brie
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2016
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”
― Oppenheimer's translation from Bhagavad-Gita in Richard Rhodes, Making of the Atomic Bomb


“Now we are all sons of bitches.”
― Richard Bainbridge, quoted in Richard Rhodes, Making of the Atomic Bomb

I 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 maste
Stefania Dzhanamova
Nov 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwii
Physicists had pondered the possibilities of atomic liberation since the turn of the 20th century. As early as 1904, during a lecture to the British Corps of Royal Engineers, the physicist Frederick Soddy noted the atom's potential: "The man who puts his hand on the lever by which a parsimonious nature regulates so jealously the output of this store of energy would possess a weapon by which he could destroy the world if he chose." Soddy is known to have later inspired H. G. Wells' novel in which ...more
Jul 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Andrej Karpathy
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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+ more 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 fe ...more
Laura Noggle
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
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 t ...more
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Richard Rhodes’ big dense book is detailed, focused and all-encompassing much like the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb it describes. Rhodes’ history is a blend of physics, politics, war, diplomacy and personal relationships. It challenges both one’s intellect and moral judgment. It raises as many questions as it answers and some of the most important still remain after almost 70 years.

Why did the U.S. get the atomic bomb ahead of Germany and other nations? The U. S. had the quantity and qu
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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 i ...more
Porter Broyles
There are thousands of books on the Atomic Bomb, but only one has earned a Pulitzer Prize in History.

That Pulitzer is well deserved.

The challenge in writing a book on the bomb is not a dearth of material, but the volumes of books already on the subject. There are biographies on many of the key figures involved in making the bomb. There are histories that talk about specific stories or events that occurred during the story. Scientific manuals talking about the technical aspect of making the bomb
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
Possibly the best scientific book for layman ever written.
Like most of you, I've heard and mulled over the arguments about whether America should or shouldn't have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan to hasten the end of World War II. Historians, scholars, philosophers, armchair know-it-alls, etc., have all had a go at it. It's not so easy a question to answer definitively, despite what would seem to be an open-and-shut case on the side of the moral and right thing to do.

Consider you were a soldier, or the family of a soldier wondering if, at that moment
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A monumental epic. This incredible book is a very readable history of physics and physicists in the first half of the twentieth century. It tells the story and personalities of these great scientists, as well as the political figures involved, which culminated in the atomic bomb, and shortly thereafter thermonuclear weapons. Do not be daunted by fact that it is close to 900 pages long. A history this complex and significant is deserving of a complete treatment. Although this book was published i ...more
Science history at this level of breadth and depth does more 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 Rutherfor ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A great story of science, war, history, politics, a story that uniquely blends humanity’s greatest talents with its gravest errors. A triumphant scientific and industrial effort of the greatest minds racing to invent the way of humankind’s self-destruction.

As soon as nuclear fission was discovered - only in December of 1938 - nuclear scientists all started frantic research projects, discovering a vast source of energy, new elements, and more potent radioactive sources. With this, the thought of
Aug 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I feel both guilty and generous for giving the book 3 stars, becasue it is a full and complete authoritative, did I say complete- in every single detail- history of the making of Atomic bomb and therein lies the rub.

Its too complete. The lead up is never ending. Its every detail of 50 years of geopolitical developments in America, Europe and USSR, every discovery (and many failed theories) in applied and theoretical physics post 1900, by whom, when, and how other people felt about it, every deta
A thick and dense book. Very well written and I learned so much more about the science of the bomb, WWII, the politics and the decision to use the bomb. Highly recommended.
Christopher Saunders
Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb is the classic history of the Manhattan Project, from its inception through Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rhodes ably traces the early developments in atomic theory, through a coterie of fascinating scientists: Leo Szilard, the Hungarian physicist who spearheaded the development of the first atomic reactor and the cyclotron; Albert Einstein, whose Theory of Relativity became a lynchpin for development of atomic physics; Enrico Fermi, whose circle at the Un ...more
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I don't believe there are any histories of the Manhattan project that compare to that of Rhodes. It has been the definitive story of the building of the bomb for twenty-five years and is likely to remain so -- most of the engineers and scientists involved are no longer available for interview.

The book lives up to its impressive reputation. It is a detailed and eloquent account—of the early years of almost incredible scientific productivity, of the machinations of committees that nearly killed th
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it
OK EVERYONE. The moment we've all been waiting for. I have FINISHED this book.
Considering how much I complained about this book, you're probably surprised I gave it 3 stars. So let me break it down:
First off, I would have never EVER read this entire book without it being assigned reading for a class. So I don't think that justifies a poor rating. But I seriously cannot imagine reading this book for pleasure. It is SO dense, complex, detailed, and LONG. Also, had it not been for explanations in c
Nov 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
I read till part 2, chapter 10, approximately 30% of almost 900 pages. It's interesting but very detailed. My nuclear physics knowledge is basic university level from my days of studying engineering. This, however was beyond me and my patience. Plus I want to read for fun, this was turning more into a project. ...more
Brad Lyerla
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB is Richard Rhodes’ internationally acclaimed tour de force of science writing. It is an epic history of the seven decades that saw Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and dozens of others lay the groundwork for the science that we now call Quantum Physics. It won several awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. I love non-fiction and I cannot think of another work of non-fiction that ...more
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by American journalist and historian Richard Rhodes, is a stunning achievement that takes us from early 20th century discoveries to the development of modern physics, and from there to the Manhattan Project and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not surprisingly, the book won a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. It has been praised both by historians and the former Manhattan Project scientists, which is unde ...more

wiki sourced - Leó Szilárd (Hungarian: Szilárd Leó, February 11, 1898 – May 30, 1964 German: Spitz, Leo until age 2) was an Austro-Hungarian physicist who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb.

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck (April 23, 1858 – October 4, 1947) was a German physicist who is regarded as th
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NonFiction Pulitzers: The Making of the Atomic Bomb: Buddy Read 2016 48 26 Mar 21, 2016 07:23PM  
hay 2 53 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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