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Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  435 ratings  ·  31 reviews
An account of the remarkable scientists who discovered that nuclear fission was possible and then became concerned about its implications. Index. Translated by James Cleugh.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 21st 1970 by Mariner Books (first published 1956)
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Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The thing I remember most about this book was the sense of Greek tragedy unfolding, as the Americans raced to finish the bomb, fearful that the Nazis would get there first. Meanwhile the scientists who were working for the Nazis dragged their feet as much as they could. As a reader you can see both sides but they could not see each other, and there is no hope that the ending will be different than what you know; you continue reading but with a strong sense of fatalism, more than any book I read ...more
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, wwii, history
"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

This book was written back in the 1950s and should still be a warning to all of us today. We are literally sitting on weapons that could easily extinguish the entire human race within a couple weeks.
Robert Jungk created an outstanding documentation about the global race to the nuclear bomb which basically started with the discovery of the neutron and its possible applications by James Chadwick back in 1932.

The university of Göttingen was a ho
Chris S
Dec 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, usa
Utterly terrifying.

'If the radiance of a thousand suns
were to burst into the sky,
that would be like
the splendour of the Mighty One -'


'I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds'
- Bhagavad Gita

(uttered by Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, upon seeing the first ever nuclear mushroom cloud)
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The title quote suggests that this book is more exciting than any novel and it is so very true. As exciting as it is scary. Detailed depiction of choices, circumstances and small incidents, all of which led to complete destroying of two cities, extinction of almost 300000 people and contamination by both atomic and thermonuclear weapon.

And although author does not refrain himself from exploring personal stories of involved individuals it is more of “the bigger picture” book. Starting as a histo
Arun Tejasvi
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The book presents vivid descriptions of what happened behind the scenes during the development of the atomic bomb and presents an amazing story of how the scientific community first lobbied the U.S. government to build the bomb and then struggled to prevent them from using it. I haven't read a better account of the moral quandaries that scientists at that time faced. As with all good historical accounts, it remains incredibly relevant today. ...more
James Smith
An interesting book. It's a book about people. Very little scientific or technical detail is mentioned, but the interactions between the various scientists (initially), military and political figures are mostly discussed.

Interesting things to note here are the effects of the secrecy in the American government's operations. For example, at the end of the Second World War, the State Department knew very well that Japan was close to surrender, but they had no idea about the atomic bomb. Los Alomos
Shweta Ramdas
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
How accountable are scientists to be for the future consequences of their inventions? Should they remain within their domains of technical expertise, or should they step out to participate in political decisions? This is the primary question that "Brighter than a Thousand Suns" deals with. It is more an account of the minds behind the invention of the atomic bomb and less about the actual science.

It is also about the many accidents of fate that brought about the development of the bomb. These c
Shiven Shiven
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of the best books which i read recently. This not only gives a vivid description of the events that actually changed the world scenario and got us into an arms race but also describes the science events in a story telling fashion which makes episodes like electron discovery as a heart warming event to even the layman. The story line is absolutely mind boggling and portrayal of the human side of some of the world famous scientists was a discovery in itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and s ...more
Slow Reader
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
His descriptions of German escapees fleeing death under Nazism, "the Institute's" paranoid functioning, Einstein's untoward letter, Oppenheimer's tragic affair with a communist past lover, the ridiculous ordeal of Bikini Island, and the softly obliterating inevitability for those not in Japan of what happened when the bomb dropped stay with this reader--horrifying doesn't come close. It's only been 75 years(ish) since this all happened. We have Wifi now and stuff ...more
Dennis Cahillane
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Written in 1956 while the central players were still alive but after the "Atoms for Peace" conference and associated thawing of secrecy, the best non-fiction account I've read of the people behind the atomic and hydrogen bombs. ...more
Nate Hendrix
Aug 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
Did not like it and did not finish it.
Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut
Read thai translation version. Love the content. Don’t like the translated language and style.
Aakif Ahmad
Aug 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing book. Told in narrative, story-like form, the author recreates the story of how scientific research evolved from one driven by love of knowledge and cross-border collaboration to one that became mired in politics and personal glory. He tells this story within the context of the preeminent scientific pursuit of the late 19th/early 20th century: the discovery of nuclear fission and the construction of the atomic bomb. The characters are so many of the names we know: Ernest Ruthe ...more
Jim Razinha
Sep 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
One of the New Scientist Top 25 Most Influential Popular Science Books (all of which I plan to read eventually), and mentioned in a recent read by Martin Gardner.

Fascinating. Part history, part biography, part political commentary, part social commentary, and part melodrama ("But Teller was not made to march with the rank and file.") unkind to Oppenheimer, but then the times and history were unkindness that unfortunately passed to his children, or at least his daughter.

Jungk seemed a
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Robert Jungk beleuchtet in seinem Buch die Entwicklung der ersten Kernwaffen und dabei die Rolle der Wissenschaftler in den westlichen Ländern, besonders der USA, sowie die Verhältnisse in Nazideutschland. Der Untertitel des Buches lautet "das Schicksal der Atomforscher", doch glücklicherweise reduziert der Autor die Verstrickungen der Beteiligten nicht aufs Schicksalhafte, noch nimmt er allzu einfache Schuldzuweisungen vor. Das Buch zielt nicht auf die Klärung der moralische Frage, sondern lief ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
In trying to struggle through reading Quantum, I recalled reading this book a fair amount of years ago. (It was much more readable than Quantum.) The story of the discovery of the theories of physics which lay behind the technology of the atomic bomb, the story of reducing the theory to the terrifying reality of the atomic bomb, and the insight to its terrible power, all left an impression on me.

Admiration for the brilliance of those who discovered the theory, wonder at the technology combined w
Dr. M
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author wanted to write a novel based on the development of the first atomic bomb. In the course of his research he realized that "facts were stranger than fiction" and decided to write facts instead of fiction. The book is an exciting experience on the beautiful years in Gottingen University where important original mathematical derivations were done on the coffee table in the cafeteria by great minds who discussed in the "rarefied atmosphere at the limits of human understanding". You will s ...more
Jun 07, 2016 added it
Though much of this information has undoubtedly been retread and updated many times over since this book was written more than 50 years ago, I imagine that the vast majority of it is still relevant and accurate. Moreover, the (former) timeliness of its subject matter, written in the middle of the great nuclear arms race, lends an immediacy to the writing that still resonates today. It certainly boosted by a significant degree my understanding of the scientific and political environment leading u ...more
Leah G
Oct 31, 2012 rated it liked it
The history of the scientists who built the atomic bomb. Lots of personal, close up stories of the Manhattan Project and its people. Pretty good and accurate and detailed especially considering how close to the time it was written, before stuff got declassified, so it was hard to cover all aspects of the story- yet he had the advantage of things still being relatively current and fresh and all the people still being around...just be aware of the pros and cons when reading it. Good read though, f ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It's beautifully written and reads like a novel. The book was published in 1956 so it has an urgency to it that most books on atomic history today lack. The drawback is that I feel it is overly hard on Oppenheimer. It boiled him down too much, and I feel misrepresents his relationships with Teller and Chevalier. It is interesting to read how people felt about him at the time though! ...more
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is truly an excellent book. One of the few I'd classify as must read, especially to anyone considering a life in the sciences. An account of the time, with source material from the who 's who of modern physics, uncluttered by anachronistic interperation. It might be interesting to get a footnoted updated version if it existed. ...more
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-my-soul
I never had any interest in science and I usually associated the names of the scientists with formulas. After I read this book I discovered that names like Curie, Einstein, Oppenheimer or Bohr are more than a mass of letters, they conceal feelings, memories, sacrifices.
Mandeep Singh
Dec 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful read. The book was researched and written at the time most the scientists who contributed to the Manhattan Project were still alive. The account of the events that led up to it is very personal and engaging.
Mar 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A short history of the development of the atomic bomb.
Manuel Domínguez Álvarez
Todo un clásico de obligada lectura para los amantes de la historia que vivieron los físicos que intervinieron directa o indirectamente en el desarrollo de la guerra atómica.
Jun 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I read this in high school before I could really appreciate the bomb race and horizon of technology.... or non-fiction.
It's really tremendous.
May 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Great personality based look at the Manhattan Project, focusing particularly on the leadership of the Los Alamos site. Good stuff.
MM Callahan
Nov 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Everything you ever wanted to know about the atom bomb, Manhattan Project and super nuclear science stuff!
Jul 17, 2015 added it
Well written story - relevant today when 70 years have gone by:
rated it it was amazing
Jan 05, 2014
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née Robert Baum
aka Robert Baum-Jungk

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