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Duck and Cover

This is one of the earliest printings of A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes under the Auspices of the United States Government 1940-1945. Not a very memorable title, is it? The author, H. D. Smyth, would write years later in The Princeton University Library Chronicle, "... no author is likely to choose a 24-word title for something."

Best known as "The Smyth Report," it is the first declassified appearance of the technical information behind the massive atomic bomb project begun in the first years of World War II. It is also a bibliographic mess; sorting out which copy takes precedence in its printing history takes a bit of research.

Because of the extreme security under which Smyth worked, even the most basic tasks such as editing and typing had to be done under Army approved conditions.Because of the extreme security under which Smyth worked, even the most basic tasks such as editing and typing had to be done under Army approved conditions. Manhattan Engineering District stenographers had to be relocated from the Oak Ridge facility to the Pentagon to meet the deadline set by General Groves. Printing was also done at the Pentagon, and copies were kept in the General's safe.

First off the "press" was a mimeograph version, sent by courier to project leaders in July of 1945. These copies were read and then returned by the courier service to General Groves.

The "Ditto Version," came next, identifiable by the purple ink. Then the "Lithoprint Version" was printed; Smyth later wrote that he believed about 1,000 copies were produced. In his most helpful Descriptive Check List of the Smyth Report, Earle Coleman describes this version as:

Single sheets stapled, with cream-colored, textured paper covers, the following lithoprinted on the front: Released for Publication on ____________________.

That bibliographic point is easy to find on our copy — it's 3.5 inches below the coffee cup ring on the front wrap.

McGraw-Hill was approached to print what can be called the "trade" edition; ultimately it was Princeton University Press that published, in hardback and paperback, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes. Over 125,000 copies were sold between 1945 and 1973 — not a bad sales record considering that most readers would find the mathematical equations beyond their abilities.

The GPO (Government Printing Office) also printed a version in September 1945. The British published an edition in November of 1945, and the October 1945 issue of Reviews of Modern Physics contained most of the text of the version printed by the University Press earlier that fall. Here are the Review of Modern Physics, GPO, and Princeton University Press editions together:

All of these can be called "The Smyth Report," but in the used and rare book market their value varies considerably, and it's not always clear from booksellers' descriptions which version is being offered. The most valuable copies are those that belonged to the physicists who worked on the project.The most valuable copies are those that belonged to the physicists who worked on the project. The Linda Hall Library has a presentation copy inscribed by Smyth, and Fermi's copy is most likely in the special collection at the University of Chicago.

After the report was released various politicians claimed that the secrets of the bomb were now no longer secret. Six copies of the lithoprint version supposedly went to the Soviet news agency TASS. What no one knew at the time, of course, was that Klaus Fuchs had been handing over detailed information to the Soviets for years, and even Fuchs didn't know that physicist Theodore Hall was also spying for the Soviets.

The coming cold war guaranteed an immense popular interest in nuclear weapons and the science surrounding the atomic age. Disney and Golden Books published kid-friendly nuclear titles:

The ever-helpful Army produced public service pamphlets, (page 4 of this one has printed in bold: What Are Your Chances?) and author Bob Bale's 1951 How to Make an Atomic Bomb in Your Own Kitchen demystified the hard science.

Not to be outdone by the Army, the Department of the Defense issued The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, complete with a "Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer" which would help the user calculate essential nuclear data in case of a detonation.

But back to H. D. Smyth, his report, and the Manhattan Project. Robert Jungk points out in his book Brighter Than a Thousand Suns that Smyth was in charge of two departments at once, thus "he would have been able, strictly speaking, to talk to himself about the project only after having obtained prior permission to do so."

Goodbye, Catch-22 — hello, Dr. Strangelove.

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Kirsten Berg has worked as a used book buyer for Powell's for more than 10 years. She is experienced with technical and general reading material, and enjoys working with out-of-print and rare material the most.

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One Response to "Duck and Cover"

    Zemer January 10th, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    hi Kirsten,

    Thanks for the interesting info!
    I lately stumbled upon a copy of the 1945 british edition, with the US great seal in in in blue on the cover. paperback.

    Someone threw it on a bench with some other books (another interesting one is
    "Sane sex life and sane sex living" by H.W. Long - Autherized Edition, Eugenics Publishing Co. Inc. New York). They were both picked up by me in 1 second...

    Can you tell more about the Smyth "Atomic Energy..." title? What led to it's
    making, and the history of prints?

    Anyway, I find it fascinating. (Can you imagine something like this being
    printed today in our extreme closed-loop yet global society ?!)



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