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Making of the Atomic Bomb

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  15,835 ratings  ·  875 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 discussio
Kindle Edition, 896 pages
Published September 18th 2012 by Simon & Schuster (first published September 18th 1986)
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Michel Boto It delves more into the history and process of the discoveries leading up to the bomb than the science. You do not need to draw Feynman diagrams on…moreIt delves more into the history and process of the discoveries leading up to the bomb than the science. You do not need to draw Feynman diagrams on the dust jacket just to follow the plot.(less)
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Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 of pic ...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
Nov 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Awesome people
Shelves: world-war-ii, science
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
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, aere-perennius
“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 itsclass="gr-hostedUserImg">
Jul 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 hum
Andrej Karpathy
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 ba ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Peter Mcloughlin
Rereading this classic on the atomic bomb written in the 1980s. It covers the science behind and politics and characters that lead to building and use of the atomic bomb in 1945. It picks up the thread at the turn of the twentieth century and developments in the field of physics and chemistry that lead to the idea of releasing the power locked in the nucleus of an atom. It also traces the politics of Europe throughout the early twentieth century such as the first world war and the spread on fas ...more
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.
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 near
Nov 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 expla

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 Karlclass="gr-hostedUserImg">
Aug 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brad Lyerla
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The book starts off in London on a dull September morning in 1933 with Leo Szilard contemplating the shape of things to come. From this point on, the book is a history book. It is a nuclear physics textbook. It is a slow burning mystery. It is a World War II spy thriller. The narrative jumps between continents and historical figures with such finesse that it is quite easy to get lost within its pages and forget that it deals with the greatest issue of all : the annihilation of all mankind. It is ...more
Antonio Nunez
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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G.d. Brennan
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 e
Michael Burnam-Fink
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, war, history
"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos lab, chief designer of the atomic bomb, and a polymath with mystic and leftist inclinations, had the perfect quote for the first artificial dawn of an atomic explosion. There are many ways in which we die: disease, age, accident, violence. And many ways in which we might all die; suddenly in the wake of some cosmological catastrophe or slowly starving on a dying planet. With the atom bomb,
William Baumeister
An incredible mix of storytelling and the scientific history of nuclear physics. Every chapter is so compelling, intertwining biographies and touching on so many topics, science, culture, even philosophy at times. I only wish it had a better title.
Jul 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 th
Josh Friedlander
An epic topic, perhaps the epic topic, matched by a book epic in scope and detail. Rhodes starts off at the beginning of 20th century understanding of the atom, going into intricate detail about the lives of Bohr, Rutherford, Szilard, et al. He seems equally happy talking about Kierkegaard's Either/Or philosophy, the Pacific Theatre, or the intricacies of isolating Uranium-235. There's a lot of science in this book - I googled a lot but still felt like I missed enough to justify a second reading so ...more
Stephen Clare
An astonishing book, dense as lead and explosive as plutonium. It's 800+ pages of tiny text, but there's not a superfluous sentence to be found. Just a staggering amount of information. And no wonder - this book is a textbook of physics in the first half of the 20th century, a case study of the relationship between science and war (and scientists and soldiers), and a history of the rising tolerability of mass civilian slaughter, combined with multiple biographies of some of history's most charac ...more
Sandy Maguire
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book. The first act is a fantastic set of tableaus about the physicists and progression of science necessary to discover the capabilities of the atom. The second act is somewhat dry, regarding mostly the politicking necessary to have made the bomb happen, but there is some decent engineering spliced in here and there. The third is about the war effort, the Trinity test, and the eventual dropping of the bomb. The last chapter is horrifying and not something I'd describe as the feel-good r ...more
Noah Goats
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a powerful book. Rhodes understands and does a good job of explaining the science and technical details involved in building the bomb, but he also understands the human element. Rhodes provides insights into the men and women who built the first atomic weapons, laying out their conflicting motives and feelings. He also provides a thoughtful discussion of the politics and ethical considerations that went into building a bomb. This is an epic story of thousands of people coming together to ...more
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is worth reading just because Rhodes is such a gifted writer. But it's also a fascinating story--both the science and the war part.
Susan O
Long and detailed, but very readable. It is filled with science, but also information about the people involved in the development of the atomic bomb. Some names may be familiar - Oppenheimer, Bohr, Lawrence, and Einstein - but others are included as well - including Teller, Wigner, Szilard, and Conant. I was also very glad to see Lise Meitner given her due, one of the very few women involved in the discovery.

The book progresses chronologically from the early days of quantum theory through the
Antonio Rojas
May 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Monumental and Breathtaking!
Is a breathtaking journey through the history of nuclear physics and the development of Atomic Theory. It is a masterpiece where Mr. Rhodes regales us with his gift for presenting difficult and intricate concepts in a very logical, insightful, colorful, and above all entertaining fashion.
Loosely speaking, the first part of the book covers the key steps that carved the foundations of atomic theory: we get to witness J.J. Thompson discovering the electron; E
Robert Cox
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fivahs
"The deep things in science are not found because they are useful, they are found because it was possible to find them" -Oppenheimer

In a word... comprehensive. Like, uber. Not just an exhaustive regarding the scientific aspects, but the social, political and wartime factors that contributed and led up to the creation of the most destructive weapon ever conceived. Even ample knowledge of the personal lives of the scientists involved is conveyed.

There is so much about the development
Aaron Million
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Richard Rhodes' monumental undertaking here is both admirable and daunting at the same time. As one might expect, the story of the development of the atomic bomb, and of atomic power in general, does not occur overnight and does not involved just a few individuals. It evolves over decades of often pain-staking work done by scientists who span a wide range of nationalities, specialties, opinions, and motivations. As such, a thorough job requires a lot of work – both for Rhodes and for the reader. ...more
Abhilesh Dhawanjewar
A single sentence to summarise this book - 'It is a masterpiece'.

Richard Rhodes takes us back to the 20th Century when the world is gripped in the midst of the Second World War. In a spectacular, comprehensive account of the making of the atomic bomb that put an end to the Second World War, the author provides a perfect balance of the scientific, technical, political and ethical aspects of the journey that led to Nagasaki and Hiroshima being decimated by 'Fat Man' and 'Little Boy'. RR begins wi
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 qua
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
Ben Zuehlke
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Powerful book. I came to this book for the science angle more than for the political side of things, but found both fascinating. Even at 900 pages it felt short. Worth a read if you have any interest in science or history.
Martin McConnell
Read this monster while taking a course titled "The Atomic Era" in college. For historical insights, it's quite a page turner. The class was pretty awesome too.
Adam Robinson
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is a reason that books are given the Pulitzer Prize. Rhodes' book about the discovery of the atom and the development of the atomic bomb is a tour de force. It stands as one of the best history books I have ever read. Thorough, wide ranging, and engrossing. I am amazed at the intelligence of scientists working without the benefit of computers. I am horrified by what we can inflict upon one another in war. This is my second time through this book and it is still very much a 5 star read.
Alex Zakharov
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Was hesitant to commit to an 800 page book that I wasn’t too terribly interested in but at some point not knowing your basic history of theoretical physics becomes a burden one’s ego can no longer bear. Perhaps the final push was a podcast with Max Tegmark on multiverse or maybe it was a lecture on quantum gravity or maybe it was that Schrodinger’s cat cartoon in the New Yorker – either way the debt had to be paid, and so off I went.

I wish I could say that it was a totally worthwhile read but t
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extraordinary work, one of the finest nonfiction books I've ever read. Its breadth and depth of coverage are incredible. It is engagingly written, truly a book hard to put down. It is full of wonderful anecdotes and photographs.

The book is a chronological account of the science, engineering, and politics that created the atomic bomb. It is basically in four parts: physics from around 1880 to 1938, physics from 1939 to 1943, engineering and politics from 1941 to 1945, and
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
This is an amazing book. I’ll admit it starts off slowly. The author described the lives of the various scientists involved with what felt like excruciating detail. For me the book started as a slog.

But once it gets going, wow does it pack a punch. The author describes convincingly how the bombing of civilian populations by both sides paved the way for the production and use of a weapon of mass destruction that would wreak unimaginable damage on civilians. The book does not shy away from the im
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Excellently told history of the incredible story of the development of the atomic bomb. Rhodes starts with some of the history of modern physics as it relates to different developments that led to the bomb, including the scientists. It was great to see Niels Bohr get his proper due; he commonly seems to be overlooked, at least among the general public, as one of the most important scientists in history (though he wasn't directly involved in the Manhattan Project). The science throughout this boo ...more
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NonFiction Pulitzers: The Making of the Atomic Bomb: Buddy Read 2016 48 23 Mar 21, 2016 07:23PM  
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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 and the A ...more
“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.” 30 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.” 10 likes
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