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Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopolyby Michael Gordin
Synopses & Reviews
On August 29, 1949, the first Soviet test bomb, dubbed First Lightning, exploded in the deserts of Kazakhstan. The startling event was not simply a technical experiment that confirmed the ability of the Soviet Union to build nuclear bombs during a period when the United States held a steadfast monopoly; it was also an international event that marked the beginning of an arms race that would ultimately lead to nuclear proliferation beyond the two superpowers. Following a trail of espionage, secrecy, deception, political brinksmanship, and technical innovation, Michael D. Gordin challenges conventional technology-centered nuclear histories by looking at the prominent roles that atomic intelligence and other forms of information play in the uncertainties of nuclear arms development and political decision-making. With the use of newly opened archives, Red Cloud at Dawn focuses on the extraordinary story of First Lightning to provide a fresh understanding of the origins of the nuclear arms race, as well as the all-too-urgent problem of proliferation.
Michael D. Gordin is an associate professor of the history of science at Princeton University. He is the author of Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War. Nothing about the early cold war can be understood without grasping the terrifying first few years of nuclear weapons. Everything was in play: who would have them, who would control them, would they be used to enforce a pax Americana. Spies, diplomats, treaties, and detonations--nothing gripped decision makers as much as the atomic arsenal, from screaming headlines to the silent intelligence analyses on both sides of the divide. In Red Cloud at Dawn, Michael Gordin zeros in on the crucial years from Hiroshima to the first flash of 'Joe 1' in 1949, the first Russian bomb and the ninth nuclear explosion. Using a spectacular variety of sources from Soviet and American sources, Gordin gives us a book that must be read to understand how we came to the sprawling nuclear proliferation in which we now live.--Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University
Beginning with Truman's revelation to Stalin that the United States had an unusually powerful weapon, Michael Gordin tells the story of the Soviet A-bomb and the origins of the Cold War arms race. The 'dialectical dance' of the superpowers entailed a deadly embrace that cost millions but miraculously avoided nuclear holocaust. This is a story of intelligence in both senses of the word--of spies and scientists, of information rather than simply fissionable material and devices. The red mushroom cloud rose on August 29, 1949, and, as Gordin's compelling narrative shows, the fallout, in its many senses, remains with us today.--Ronald Suny, Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History, University of Michigan
Michael Gordin brings vividly to life the end of the American atomic monopoly. By focusing on what each side knew--and did not know--about the other, he sheds new and original light on the origins of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race. This is a stylish book, with important implications for how we think about nuclear weapons past and present.--David Holloway, author of Stalin and the Bomb
The dramatic but familiar story of how American leaders used nuclear weaponry to end World War II marks but the beginning of the little-understood period during which American leaders jealously protected their hard-won monopoly in atomic firepower while fearfully anticipating Soviet breakthroughs that would loose the dynamics of global proliferation. In his taut narrative, Gordin retraces the complex events leading up to First Lightning, the Soviets' epoch-making atomic test in August 1949--far sooner than most American experts expected. More than a tale of scientific ingenuity, this chronicle probes the human motives of those involved in a high-stakes drama. Truman and Stalin naturally command center stage, but readers also scrutinize the mercurial Oppenheimer and the irreproachable Kurchatov--and numerous other key actors. Readers will recognize parallels between the Soviet bomb effort and America's earlier Manhattan Project, but Gordin stresses the marked differences--in organization, resources, personnel, and security precautions. Readers may already know how spies--Fuchs, Hall, Hiss--passed along secrets to Soviet authorities; however, they may not realize why the Soviets relied on human espionage while their American counterparts deployed innovative technology to gather their intelligence data. A perceptive study, rich with implications for a twenty-first-century world still fraught with nuclear tensions.--Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)
Gordin has crafted a quite wonderful book . . . It] greatly expands what we should know about the contest for nuclear supremacy in the early Cold War. Heartily recommended.--Ed Goedeken, Library Journal
After World War II, the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) began mass-producing radioisotopes, sending out nearly 64,000 shipments of radioactive materials to scientists and physicians by 1955. Even as the atomic bomb became the focus of Cold War anxiety, radioisotopes represented the governmentandrsquo;s efforts to harness the power of the atom for peaceandmdash;advancing medicine, domestic energy, and foreign relations.
In Life Atomic, Angela N. H. Creager tells the story of how these radioisotopes, which were simultaneously scientific tools and political icons, transformed biomedicine and ecology. Government-produced radioisotopes provided physicians with new tools for diagnosis and therapy, specifically cancer therapy, and enabled biologists to trace molecular transformations. Yet the governmentandrsquo;s attempt to present radioisotopes as marvelous dividends of the atomic age was undercut in the 1950s by the fallout debates, as scientists and citizens recognized the hazards of low-level radiation. Creager reveals that growing consciousness of the danger of radioactivity did not reduce the demand for radioisotopes at hospitals and laboratories, but it did change their popular representation from a therapeutic agent to an environmental poison. She then demonstrates how, by the late twentieth century, public fear of radioactivity overshadowed any appreciation of the positive consequences of the AECandrsquo;s provision of radioisotopes for research and medicine.
A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS' CHOICE
On August 29, 1949, the first Soviet test bomb, dubbed "First Lightning," exploded in the deserts of Kazakhstan. This surprising international event marked the beginning of an arms race that would ultimately lead to nuclear proliferation beyond the two superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States.
With the use of newly opened archives, Michael D. Gordin folows a trail of espionage, secrecy, deception, political brinksmanship, and technical innovation to provide a fresh understanding of the nuclear arms race.
About the Author
Michael D. Gordin is an associate professor of the history of science at Princeton University. He is the author of Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War.
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