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The Berlin Project

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  659 ratings  ·  109 reviews
New York Times bestselling author Gregory Benford creates an alternate history about the creation of the atomic bomb that explores what could have happened if the bomb was ready to be used by June 6, 1944.

Karl Cohen, a chemist and mathematician who is part of The Manhattan Project team, has discovered an alternate solution for creating the uranium isotope needed to cause a
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by Gallery / Saga Press
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Mogsy (MMOGC)
3 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

It’s hard to be a fan of alternate history fiction these days without running across your fair share of alternate World War II stories, but from the start, it was clear to me that The Berlin Project was a different breed. With a heavy focus on the historical details and science behind the building of the atom bomb, I confess this would not have been my usual kind of read at all. That said, I’m glad I read it, and as you wi
Peter Tillman
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A tour de force of alternate history

What if the Manhattan Project had yielded a working A-bomb a year earlier, in 1944, and had helped to shorten the war in Europe? In our history, the project first went down a blind alley — General Groves, relying on bad advice, chose gaseous diffusion as the main method to separate weapons-grade U-235 from U-238, the dominant, heavier and non-fissile isotope in natural uranium. It turns out that centrifuges work much better, and the enormous, expensive gaseous
Larry Deaton
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Gregory Benford, in his new novel THE BERLIN PROJECT, has been writing science fiction novels for almost fifty years and has done something really different this time. There are really two novels here. He starts with a novel that--for about the first half of the book—is just a historical novel about the Manhattan Project and not really a science fiction novel at all. The main protagonist is Benford’s actual father-in-law, Karl Cohen. Cohen was a chemist involved with the engineering problem of f ...more
Such a great, thought-provoking book. Well written, well researched (it helps that the author's father-in-law is the main character), and quite deep in concept.

In the afterward, the author mentioned the possibility of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan or in the Middle East. The narrative was very striking to me, and actually brought tears to my eyes when the bomb was dropped on Berlin in the book, as I sit and watch the news of President Trump and Kim Jong Un ratcheting up the rheto
David Nichols
May 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, alt-history
(Please note that this review contains some spoilers.)

Gregory Benford’s latest and longest foray into alternate history should have sat better with your reviewer. The author writes with elegance and authority, and grounds his counterfactual scenario on solid historical research, interviews, and personal knowledge (from grad school) of some of the principal characters. The physical details Benford provides of wartime discomforts and privations help turn his characters into actual people with whom
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In the alternate history genre, it's commonplace to have historical figures as important characters. It's far less common, however, for the author's characterization of those historical figures to be based upon their firsthand knowledge of them. As a physicist who knew personally some of the leading figures of the Manhattan Project, Gregory Benford is one of the select few for whom such an accomplishment is possible, and he employs it to full effect in this novel exploring the war that might hav ...more
David Hill
May 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a fascinating reimagining of the Manhattan Project, given a change to a few decisions early on. What might have happened had we been able to complete the bomb a year earlier?

Reading it, I thought all the characters were actual historical figures save one, our main character. I learn from the afterword that even he was a real person. The only fictional characters are a few incidental ones, some of whom provide a catalyst for change from actual events.

At times I felt some of the (fictional
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Greg Benford imagines an alternative history where the Manhattan project was more effectively managed, and an different technique was used to separate U235 from U238. Many of the characters in this book were actual people, some of whom still alive. Benford anchors his so solidly in the science and engineering of the time, and the voices and memories of the characters, that it reads more like a biography than a novel. This is old-school Science Fiction where the science gets more attention than t ...more
Michael Jarrell
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Benford really hit this one out of the park! As alternate history novels go this one was top shelf! There's something here for everyone. Science for those who like the science in science fiction, great characterisations with historical figures and some nice homages to some science fiction greats, like Heinlein, (whose story “Solution Unsatisfactory," plays a big role in the story). This is a book well worth reading!
James Pyles
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just finished reading The Berlin Project, a novel by physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford, and it was fabulous. Really top-notch alternate history, which was given enormous depth by the fact that Benford has met many of the people who were involved in the Manhattan Project during World War Two. His father-in-law is Karl Cohen, who is the book’s protagonist and in real life actually was a chemist on the project.

The novel’s premise is that at the Manhattan Project’s beginning, Amer
Interesting alternate history. But frankly I think it would have been better as a non-fiction book.

The concept was odd, basically that the author's father-in-law had successfully convinced the Manhattan Project to use the faster method of cooking up the materials, and how things would have played out. All the players were in the book plus some extras including a young Freeman Dyson and Arthur C. Clarke and even the author's dad.

It came across a little bit like wish-fulfillment. And some of it w
Rodney Falberg
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Finished this book two days ago. I always enjoy alternate history. I am disappointed that the atomic bomb was created later than it could have been. Had the Allies been able to drop the bomb on Berlin in 1944, we could have prevented the death of possibly over a million lives both civilian and military from the wholesale slaughter the Nazis and their collaborators wrought on the European continent they brought. It certainly would have put the US in a better position post-War against the Soviet U ...more
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have not read a lot of alternative history books, but this one caught my eye on an impulse buy and it turned out to be a winner. While not an action story this turned out to be a real page turner for me. Gregory Benford kept the story moving at a brisk pace while keeping the science easily understandable. The turning points led to what, in my mind, was a very plausible change in events with an outcome that felt justified. He even introduced a concept I had not heard of or considered before abo ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Very weird and unsatisfying alternative-history novel about the Manhattan Project in which Benford's Mary Sue hero, his real-life father-in-law Karl Cohen, gets to save the world, minimises geniuses like Oppenheimer, Szilard and Fermi, gets to tell off and outsmart Heisenberg and Groves, etc, and is fawned over by people like Rommel. Not without some merit (though the prose is functional at best), but still very odd. Like an incredibly ambitious present for his wife that somehow got published fo ...more
Craig Brown
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My 1st 5 - could not put it down - implementation of real facts & folks - intriguing hypothesis

I had read one of Heisenberg's biographies & he fit fight into the story so well

I pulled out my Astounding May 1941 mag to review (thanks for the collection goes to my parents who passed on in their 90s) - it's inclusion is a great anecdote to Campbell's drive to unmask the SciFi genre + Heinlein's, as Anson MacDonald, portent of the "atomic" bomb

Michael Pryor
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, detailed, thought-provoking.
Paul Walker
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well-written and extremely plausible—the characteristics of the best alternate history. This story is among the best in the genre that I have read.
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was a interesting take on early research into the nuclear bomb and it's effect on WW2. I enjoyed the history of it and the what if nature of the story.
Ralph Carlson
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A facinating alternate world novel. I really enjoyed it. I must add here that I have been a fan of Benford's work since reading his first published story way back in 1964.
Jay Zipursky
Jul 04, 2017 rated it liked it
This was an interesting, but not gripping, read. Anyone with an interest in WWII or the Manhattan Project would enjoy it.

The story closely follows scientist Karl Cohen and relates the entire war from his point of view. While the character certainly gets around and witnesses key events in the development of the bomb and the war itself, I felt the limited point of view took something away from the story. Or, perhaps it's just not what I was expecting.
Chris Hubbs
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
Fascinating alt-history of the Manhattan Project and WWII written by a nuclear scientist with first-hand knowledge of many of the characters in the book. The line between fact and fiction feels blurry for quite a while before things clearly move to the “alt”.
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This seems to be my week for alternative history thrillers: from Underground Airlines (the Civil War never happened), to this book, in which the atomic bomb becomes available a year early. This being Benford, the science is, of course, fascinating. The writing is slightly clunky in places, but one makes allowances. Sort of the ultimate in "what if" fantasies, one of those moments in the 20th century where the flow of history could have changed if one technical decision had gone a different way.
Jul 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Berlin Project by Gregory Benford is an alternate history story exploring the ramifications if the US had gotten atomic bombs a year earlier, allowing their use against Germany.

The story’s focus is on the team building the bomb. While it covers how Germany reacts to having been bombed by this new “super” weapon, the story is not one told on the battlefield. Battles are referenced, but we don’t get the soldier’s viewpoint of war. It is kept at a higher level.

What’s interesting is what I read
This is a very interesting book. Mostly it's fairly dry, an emotionally unengaging retelling of events (as opposed to reconstructing them for the reader to experience) through a single character...with whom I don't feel much rapport at all because he's used for exposition rather than much interiority. But because of this authentic tone, the period atmosphere is very good.

And yet at moments, the writer steps out of that voice and infuses commentary with a very 21st-century awareness that is pert
Dave Creek
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Greg Benford's newest novel, THE BERLIN PROJECT, is something new for him -- an alternate history. He speculates on what might have happened if the U.S. had developed the A-bomb a year earlier during WWII.

Most of the characters depicted in the book really existed, and many of them Benford knew personally. There are also a couple great cameos by SF personalities of the period.

In all a "counterfactual" novel worthy of Harry Turtledove!
Jim Martin
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book, Benford being one of my favorite "hard," genre sci-fi writers of the late 20th century. It certainly has an interesting premise, the idea that if the Manhattan Project had concentrated on perfecting the centrifugal separation process two bombs could have been ready for use in the ETO in the later half of 1944. I'm not an engineer so I can't comment on that premises and it is certainly true that separation is now mainly done by centrifuges, but the intervening 70 years ...more
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Karl Cohen, a chemist and mathematician, has discovered an alternate solution for creating the uranium isotope needed to cause a chain reaction: U-235. He convinces General Leslie Groves to allow him and his team to work at Oak Ridge to have a nuclear bomb ready to drop by June 1944 in order to stop the war on the western front. Thus, the book is a what if. The author provides plenty of detail to make the events believable. He weaves actual history into the fictional account and makes it believa ...more
Michael Frasca
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most alternate histories feature a branch point that is obvious and dramatic. But sometimes the mundane can led to major consequences. Like a chemist's mom knowing a Rabbi, who knows investors...

Well, I think I'll let you follow the flutter of that butterfly wing on your own.

A fun, thoughtful, and educational read that pairs well with Manh(A)ttan, the WGN TV series.
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This is an odd book. On its face it is a counterfactual, asking what would be the consequences of the Allies developing The Bomb earlier in the war and being able to use it in Europe. Most books of this type just make an assumption and the action all takes place later in the world that resulted from that new history. Here we are treated to the details. Benford follows the career of Karl Cohen, a real-life chemist who was an assistant to the better-known physicist Harold Urey. Both were drawn int ...more
Alex Isle
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I would probably have given this a higher rating if the earlier parts of the book had not been so clogged with explaining the science, complete with diagrams and equations. These were definitely beyond me and in the end I had to skip those parts to search for the actual story. Characterisation wasn't so great - I suppose the author felt a need to be respectful, since some were actually his relatives - but the tendency to include a character to explain a certain bit of history, then jump away fro ...more
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Gregory Benford is an American science fiction author and astrophysicist who is on the faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine.

As a science fiction author, Benford is best known for the Galactic Center Saga novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1977). This series postulates a galaxy in which sentient organic life is in constant warfare wit

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In these strange days of quarantine and isolation, books can be a mode of transport. We may have to stay home and stay still, but through t...
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“September 20, 1963 The telephone jangled him up from a pleasant dream. Something about the war again, but soft and warm and . . . he could remember no more. He sat up. Marthe was already in the bathroom, and the telephone’s harsh clamor made him jerk it off the cradle. “Allo?” “Dr. Cohen,” a thick German accent said, “I am from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a newspaper in—” “I know.” 0 likes
“Marthe had reported back from her girl-girl talk that Elisabeth took quite calmly the immense fact that she was now venturing into the landscape where she could create another human being, a prospect that to Karl seemed more frightening than, say, getting a driver’s license. All this he felt as they finished breakfast, hustled into street garb, and turned left onto boulevard Raspail.” 0 likes
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