From the discovery of nuclear fission in December 1938 (in Germany) until the first Soviet atom bomb test in 1949, Jim Baggott takes us through a journey of scientific discoveries detailing the first war of physics.

For anyone interested in understanding why these programs were started in first place, to the amount of work it actually required to build a working bomb, I highly recommend this book. Jim Baggott wrote this highly interesting, very detailed and thrilling account of these incredible scientific projects.

The Nazi atomic program

The western (the UK, Canada & the US) atomic programs were in fact started upon insistence of physicists who fled Nazi Germany and believed the Germans were actively working on developing an A-bomb. Of course, at the time the prospect was more than frightening and even though very few people actually understood the destructive power of the bomb at the time, influential politicians were convinced by the repeated warnings provided by exiled physicists worried by the events taking place in the very countries they left shortly before.

By the end of the war, it became that Nazi Germany was in fact nowhere near producing a working bomb, but until then there had been a real possibility that they would get this far – some of the brightest minds of the time were working on the project – with the frightening implications a success would have meant for the turn of the War.

How the atomic weapons proliferation could have been avoided

By 1946, the US was actively discussing what to do with the knowledge they had acquired. Oppenheimer, who was not leading the Manhattan project anymore but was still influential in the committee discussing the future of atomic energy, actually came very close to getting his recommendations for open international exchange of all the theoretical atomic material in order to push for transparency and avoid the weapons race that would lead to the Cold War.

The opportunity to halt what would soon become a madness of atomic weapons proliferation quietly slipped away. The simple truth was that international control appeared to suit nobody.

Author: Jim Baggott
Publication year: 2011
ISBN: 978-1605980645