An epic story of science and technology at the very limits of human understanding: the monumental race to build the first atomic weapons.
Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI6's Farm Hall transcripts, coded soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the soviet archives.
Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a dramatic narrative that spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to the aftermath of 'Joe-1,' August 1949's first Soviet atomic bomb test. Why did physicists persist in developing the atomic bomb, despite the devastation that it could bring? Why, despite having a clear head start, did Hitler's physicists fail? Could the soviets have developed the bomb without spies like Klaus Fuchs or Donald Maclean? Did the allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb program? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? The First War of Physics is a grand and frightening story of scientific ambition, intrigue, and genius: a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact. 32 black-and-white illustrations
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Jim Baggott is an award-winning science writer. A former academic chemist, he maintains a broad interest in science, philosophy, and history, and writes on these subjects for New Scientist and other journals. His books have been widely acclaimed and include A Beginner's Guide to Reality (Pegasus, 2006), The First War of Physics (Pegasus, 2010), The Meaning of Quantum Physics (Oxford, 1992), and Beyond Measure Modern Physics, Philosophy, and the Meaning of Quantum Theory (Oxford, 2004). He lives in England.From Booklist:
*Starred Review* Tasked by the army in 1942 with assembling a new research team, Robert Oppenheimer soon learned that few scientists wanted to join the military. But, as Baggott makes forcefully clear, the reluctant soldiers that Oppenheimer recruited for the Manhattan Project finally coalesced into the most lethal fighting force in history. To illuminate their problematic military prowess, Baggott unfolds a tale in two interwoven narrative strands. Along one strand, readers see physicists as intellectual explorers, plumbing the tantalizing mysteries of the atom. But along the second strand, readers watch these same scientists acting out unscripted personal and political roles that expose their often-flawed humanity, not their impressive expertise. Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, for instance, terminate a long-standing personal relationship when they follow different flags. Perhaps of even more compelling interest, however, is the stunning contrast between the physicists who loyally serve their elected leaders by discovering atomic secrets and the perfidious physicists who betray their country by transmitting these secrets to Soviet leaders already maneuvering for advantage in the postwar world. As readers will recognize while pondering a conclusion outlining the global implications of the 2002 Moscow Treaty on nuclear disarmament, we still live in the shadow of the events chronicled so vividly here. --Bryce Christensen
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