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The Berlin Project

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  482 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
New York Times bestselling author Gregory Benford creates an alternate history of the creation of the atom 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, has discovered an alternate solution for creating the uranium isotope needed to cause a chain rea
Kindle Edition, 528 pages
Published May 9th 2017 by 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
Larry Deaton
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
(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 his grad-school days) of some of the principal characters. The physical details Benford provides of wartime discomforts and privations help turn his characters into actual people
Peter Tillman
A tour de force of alternate history

What if the Manhattan Project had yielded a working 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-d
David Hill
May 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Craig Brown
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, detailed, thought-provoking.
Paul Walker
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ralph Carlson
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Berlin Project is an alternate history novel set in the World War II era. I have previously read a few of Gregory Benford’s novels and stories, and read his newest release in kindle ebook format. Benford is known to me as a science fiction writer and as an editor of anthologies, but is also an astrophysicist and was a Professor of Physics at UC-Irvine. We can trust that the science of this alternate history is accurate and the possibilities are technically realistic.

The point of departure (P
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 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
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
Douglas Berry
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant alternate history written by an author who is very close to the subject matter.

The concept is simple. A few slight changes to how early nuclear research was funded and when, and an industrial decision made in the early days of the Manhatten Project, and the US has the Little Boy bomb in time for D-Day. How does that change the war?

Told from the perspective of chemist Karl P. Cohen, a member of the Manhatten Project and Benford's father-in-law, The Berlin Project is an intriguing look
Robert R Holmes
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This "alternate history" is unusual in that most of the book is real history and the characters are real people. The "alternate part" arises from one "what if" speculation. The real part of the story is an accurate and complete story following the politics and science of the development of the atomic bomb from the point of view or the real Dr Cohen. The "what if" part is a speculation that General Grove (the military project leader of the Manhatten project) decides to focus on centrifugal separa ...more
Stephanie Jones
The story behind this alternate history, based on the idea the the nuclear bomb could have been developed significantly faster had the Manhattan Project not abandoned the development of centrifugal separation of uranium isotopes, is just as or more fascinating than the novel itself. Several interviews describe the central concept ( In short, Gregory Benford knows both the science and the real people who uses as characters in this novel incredibly well. T ...more
Keith Bell
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great alternate history book. Of course, all the right ingredients were there: An established Science Fiction author that happens to be a Physicist (Astrophysics) that encountered many of the key people involved in the Manhattan Project and beyond (including peripheral characters). His father-in-law happened to be involved in the Manhattan Project (and who subsequently becomes the main character in the novel) also and is credited with positing and supporting the key premise that turns this into ...more
Doug Cornelius
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
Can one decision change the world?

Mr. Benford uses stories from his father-in-law, a scientist who worked on the development of the first nuclear bomb, but changes one key decision. That one decision saves a year of development time allowing the bomb to be ready for the D-Day invasion to be used against Germany.

The first half is about the scientist working on developing fission and identifying materials that will produce the reactions. Second half is about the war and what happens when it's used
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
More about Gregory Benford

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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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