The Bomb: A Life
Gerard J. DeGroot
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Bombs are as old as hatred itself. But it was the twentieth century--one hundred years of incredible scientific progress and terrible war--that brought forth the Big One, the Bomb, humanity's most powerful and destructive invention. In The Bomb: A Life, Gerard DeGroot tells the story of this once unimaginable weapon that--at least since 8:16 a.m. on August 6, 1945--has haunted our dreams and threatened our existence.
The Bomb has killed hundreds of thousands outright, condemned many more to lingering deaths, and made vast tracts of land unfit for life. For decades it dominated the psyches of millions, becoming a touchstone of popular culture, celebrated or decried in mass political movements, films, songs, and books. DeGroot traces the life of the Bomb from its birth in turn-of-the-century physics labs of Europe to a childhood in the New Mexico desert of the 1940s, from adolescence and early adulthood in Nagasaki and Bikini, Australia and Kazakhstan to maturity in test sites and missile silos around the globe. His book portrays the Bomb's short but significant existence in all its scope, providing us with a portrait of the times and the people--from Oppenheimer to Sakharov, Stalin to Reagan--whose legacy still shapes our world.
a threat to American ships. Since no President wants to annoy the Navy, its wishes were granted. But this resulted in two battle plans and the problem of ‘deconfliction’ – literally, pilots getting in each other’s way in their effort to destroy the Soviet Union. Routing of missions and selection of targets became, by the late 1950s, too complex for the human mind. Edmundson remembers a huge room at SAC full of bulky computers which generated an immense amount of heat. We’d crank into the
nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.’ The danger of the hydrogen bomb, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto argued, went far beyond its immediate explosive potential: the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of
set up a committee ‘to thoroughly investigate the possibilities … regarding the element of uranium’.38 The Bureau, established in 1901, was a national laboratory charged with developing practical applications for scientific research. Briggs, a veteran of forty-three colourless years in government, knew only one direction – ‘caution’ – and one speed – ‘slow’. The job required a beaver. Briggs was a sloth. Briggs brought in Army Lt. Colonel Keith Adamson and Navy Commander Gilbert Hoover, both
his wife’s interpretation of the visit was probably half right and half wrong: Heisenberg wanted to enlist Bohr’s help in preventing a nuclear attack, but he also wanted to signal to Bohr that Germany could build a bomb. Heisenberg’s fears were justified. American inertia had given way to frenzied activity. In the autumn of 1941, the Nobel Prize winner Arthur H. Compton, with help from Oppenheimer, looked further into the issue of the critical mass. He estimated that it would be no higher than
41 Clinton Anderson to Truman, 25 September 1945, Truman Library. 42 Herken, pp. 35–9. 43 Stimson Diary, 4 September 1945. 44 Herken, p. 48. 45 Holloway, p. 157. 46 ‘Fulton Speech’, Atomic Archive (Internet). 47 The Story of the Atom Bomb: Trinity and Beyond (Video). 48 ‘Interviews with Bikini Elders’, Bikini Website (Internet). 49 Jack Neidenthal, ‘A Short History of Bikini Atoll’, Bikini Website. 50 Titus, p. 37. 51 Atomic Café (Video). 52 Titus, p. 38. 53 Trinity and Beyond, Peter