This book looks at the earliest part of the Nuclear age, focusing on the wartime development and use of the Atomic Bomb, before looking at the tests at Bikini Atoll, the early part of the Cold War, and the impact that the first nuclear bombs had on popular culture.
This is one of those books that appears to have developed back from a particular point of interest. Delgado is a nautical archaeologist who has taken part in expeditions that studied the fleet of warships sunk in the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll. This is reflected a little in the balance of the book - seven of the ten chapters cover the period from the earliest research into radiation to the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki tests, the eighth chapter looks at the Bikini tests while only one chapter looks at the first part of the cold war (roughly up to 1960). Delgado is also the author of a book on the ships sunk at Bikini Atoll, and one would suspect that this book developed from the research carried out for that project (having spent days trying to understand the inner workings of the jet engine after writing articles on early Jet aircraft I can sympathise with this). As is often the case in these situations the book benefits from having been written to satisfy a personal interest,
Delgado doesn't just focus on work in the United States, but also looks at the early contribution made by Britain, the British and Canadian contribution to the wartime work, and the British, French and Soviet post-war nuclear programmes.
What impresses most is the sheer scale of the effort needed to produce the first atomic bombs. The famous Los Alamos site was only one of three main centres in the United States, alongside Oak Ridge, Tennessee and the Hanford Engineering Works on the Columbia River. The radioactive materials had to be found and refined, suitable aircraft produced, special bomb release mechanisms developed (although not used in action - a standard British mechanism was used instead, the RAF having already developed bomb release mechanisms for very heavy bombs, amongst them Barnes Wallis's Tall Boy and Grand Slam). A vast amount of effort went into projects that were eventually not required, perhaps most impressively a gigantic iron container that was built for the first test explosion, but never used.
This is an interesting look at the development and impact of the Atomic Bomb that greatly benefits from including the immediate post-war period, in particular the tests at Bikini Atoll, perhaps the point at which the dangers of radioactive contamination first began to sink in.
1. The Pre-Atomic Age
2. Developing the Bomb, 1939-1945
3. Little Boy and Fat Man
4. Delivering the Bomb
7. Reaction and Response
8. Operation Crossroads: The Bikini Test
9. Nuclear Proliferation and Deterrence
10. Legacies of the Bomb
Author: James P. Delgado