The Manhattan Project

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The Manhattan Project

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Redigerat: apr 19, 2010, 12:44 am

Okay Armchair Historians, here it is, a Double Feature recommendation!

While many may tell you that 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' (1987) is the best single work about the Manhattan Project, and this may be true in many ways, I must agree with the review in this website from Oct. 12, 2009 that it is "Absorbing, if slow, sunk in detail, and rambling".
Having spent a career in the Engineering field, it is natural that one should be curious as to how one goes about going from physics formulas to an actual Device that works as no other device in history has ever worked, made of materials that do not yet exist which would cost at least a million dollars a pound if it were possible to produce them, which is far from proven. And all this involving a Absolutely Top Secret Project that will involve at least a hundred thousand people, few of whom will be allowed to know what the true purpose of the Project actually is. Oh, and by the way, get all this done in three years, not thirteen, because the other side may be be ahead of us or think of a quicker way. As they say in the U.S. Navy Construction Battalions, "The Difficult we do right away, the Impossible takes a little Longer". To say that this was the most challenging engineering project in all of human history is something of an understatement.
Thus I must recommend two books which are not so rambling or buried in detail about the careers of the principle scientists involved in the science of nuclear physics, and they are 'Day of Trinity' (1965) and 'Now It Can Be Told; the Story of the Manhattan Project' (1962). The author of the latter work was the Director of the Project from start to finish. What always intrigued me was that General Groves wife had no idea what his project was about during the entire time the project was ongoing, and she never asked.
Mr. Lamont reveals many intriguing facts about the development, for instance that the bomb was always referred to, properly, as the 'Device'. Even as the first test Device was about to detonate, there were still scientists who did not believe it would work, even to the point of refusing to wear the protective goggles supplied. I am told that the light was so bright that even those who were turned away from the blast, and had their hands over their eyes, were almost blinded by the light shining Through Their Hands!
The blast broke windows one hundred miles away. A woman riding in a car with her husband grabbed his arm and said "What was that?". She had been blind for many years, but could feel the light on her skin.
What is also interesting is that when the first test device was detonated, the bomb destined for Hiroshima was already on the way to the Pacific, and was a different design that was believed to be more likely to work that the design which was tested near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The second A-Bomb, which was used on Nagasaki, Japan, was of the same design as the first test detonation.
The Japanese did not know it, but these were the only bombs we had at the time. It would be several months before enough nuclear material was available to construct more.

apr 19, 2010, 11:49 pm

And, for a fictional take on the Manhattan Project, try Los Alamos by Joseph Kanon.

Redigerat: maj 5, 2010, 6:03 pm

Although I have not yet read it, I recommend "Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb", by Vincent C. Jones (2007). This volume is one of the 78 volumes in the "United States Army in World War II" series. It is in the "Special Studies" subseries.

It is an offical history. I generally do not find such books dull. I find them incredibly thorough and basically unbiased. I have read over 25 volumes in this series and I look forward to reading them all, although I may not live that long. (OK, some of the authors held my attention better than others did.) Correction, I may not read the "Chronology: 1941-1945", also part of the "Special Studies", etal.

Redigerat: dec 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

This thread is a bit old, but I recommend The Girls of Atomic City. I heard someone speak about it last year. The secrecy that those people in Oak Ridge, Tennesse had to maintain was incredible. They still don't want to talk about it!

dec 14, 2017, 1:37 pm

I never saw this thread. For me, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which I read this year and reviewed ( ), was gripping. Partly that was because I found Rhodes’ narration of the physics that led to the bomb to read like a scientific thriller.

Redigerat: dec 15, 2017, 6:53 am

I also think that The Making of the Atomic Bomb is the best description of the Manhatten Project I have read. May I also suggest Richard Feynman biographical books. On another related theme, also by Richard Rhodes , may I suggest his book Dark Sun about the making of the H-Bomb. A lesser known story!