Atomic: The First War of Physics, Jim Baggott

Atomic: The First War of Physics, Jim Baggott

The First War of Physics and the secret history of the Atom Bomb: 1939-49

This book looks at the ten years between the discovery of nuclear fission and the explosion of the first Soviet atom bomb, a decade that saw a race to develop and then control this new and devastating weapon. After a brief introduction our story begins in 1939, in a Europe on the brink of war, and where several different groups of scientists were studying an unexpected behaviour of Uranium. It soon became clear that what was happening was nuclear fission, a conclusion that was quickly supported by experiments across the world. The discovery of fission led to the realisation that if enough Uranium could be concentrated in a single place the result might be a self-sustaining reaction or even a massive explosion as the energy trapped in the atom was released.

This discovery inevitably led to weapons research. Baggott follows the four main nuclear research programmes, in Britain, The United States, The Soviet Union and Germany. These four threads rise and fall in importance throughout the book - at first the British and Germans dominate, but the German effort soon falls by the wayside, and the British effectively merged with the American for most of the war, only re-emerging in the post-war world, leaving the Soviet and American programme to dominate most of the story.

Baggott focuses on the individual scientists, and the contributions they each made to nuclear theory or the development of reactors and the bombs themselves, as well as following the progress of Soviet espionage and the efforts to prevent it. His explanations of the science involved are clear and well-written, and gave me a much clearer understanding of the problems and difficulties involved in developing the bomb.

This is an excellent example of popular science, explaining a series of difficult concepts clearly and coherently but without sacrificing accuracy. When combined with the personal stories of the scientists the result is an excellent study of the development of the first atomic bombs.

Chapters
Part I: Mobilisation
1 The Uranverein
2 Element 94
3 Critical Mass
4 A Visit to Copenhagen
5 Tube Alloys

Part II: Weapon
6 A Modest Request
7 The Italian Navigator
8 Los Alamos Ranch School
9 RUSSIAN
10 Escape from Copenhagen

Part III: War
11 Uncle Nick
12 Mortal Crimes
13 Also and AZUSA
14 The Final Push
15 Trinity
16 Hypocentre
17 Operation Epsilon

Part IV: Proliferation
18 RUSSIAN
19 Iron Curtain
20 Crossroads
21 Arzamus-16
22 Joe-1

Epilogue: Mutual Assured Destruction
Timeline
List of Key Characters

Author: Jim Baggott
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 576
Publisher: Icon Books
Year: 2009


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