Synopses & Reviews
Perhaps no scientific development has shaped the course of modern history as much as the harnessing of nuclear energy. Yet the twentieth century might have turned out differently had greater influence over this technology been exercised by Great Britain, whose scientists were at the forefront of research into nuclear weapons at the beginning of World War II.
As award-winning biographer and science writer Graham Farmelo describes in Churchilland#8217;s Bomb, the British set out to investigate the possibility of building nuclear weapons before their American colleagues. But when scientists in Britain first discovered a way to build an atomic bomb, Prime Minister Winston Churchill did not make the most of his countryand#8217;s lead and was slow to realize the Bomband#8217;s strategic implications. This was oddand#151;he prided himself on recognizing the military potential of new science and, in the 1920s and 1930s, had repeatedly pointed out that nuclear weapons would likely be developed soon. In developing the Bomb, however, he marginalized some of his countryand#8217;s most brilliant scientists, choosing to rely mainly on the counsel of his friend Frederick Lindemann, an Oxford physicist with often wayward judgment. Churchill also failed to capitalize on Franklin Rooseveltand#8217;s generous offer to work jointly on the Bomb, and ultimately ceded Britainand#8217;s initiative to the Americans, whose successful development and deployment of the Bomb placed the United States in a position of supreme power at the dawn of the nuclear age. After the war, President Truman and his administration refused to acknowledge a secret cooperation agreement forged by Churchill and Roosevelt and froze Britain out of nuclear development, leaving Britain to make its own way. Dismayed, Churchill worked to restore the relationship. Churchill came to be terrified by the possibility of thermonuclear war, and emerged as a pioneer of dand#233;tente in the early stages of the Cold War.
Contrasting Churchilland#8217;s often inattentive leadership with Franklin Rooseveltand#8217;s decisiveness, Churchilland#8217;s Bomb reveals the secret history of the weapon that transformed modern geopolitics.
"Science historian Farmelo (The Strangest Man) ends each chapter with a cliffhanger that will keep readers paging through this thoroughly researched, detailed history of Britain's involvement with nuclear energy in the WWII era and beyond. Farmelo presents the key personalities Churchill, 'at heart a politician and a man of letters, not an academic and certainly not a scientist;' Lindemann, an admired experimentalist and theoretician who was Churchill's science adviser for decades; an array of scientists, from Bohr to Oppenheimer; and several U.S. presidents F.D.R., Truman, and Eisenhower and follows them from pre-war developments through the war to the Manhattan Project and to the Cold War. Readers will gain a new perspective on nuclear weapons and energy in which the usual players Einstein, Szilard, and the other scientists are secondary to the British prime minister, his advisor, and scientists who took refuge in England during the war. Farmelo's prose moves quickly with much action; he evokes a sense of place and time with details of daily life, such as Lindemann's truffled egg whites and F.D.R.'s daily routine. Highly recommended for those with an interest in weaponry, the WWII era, and British history. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Best Books of 2014
and#147;In this terrific book, Farmelo tells the story of the United Kingdomand#8217;s nuclear program, which began with pioneering work in Cambridge before World War II and ultimately merged with the United Statesand#8217; Manhattan Project.and#8221;
and#147;[A] story as gripping as it is elegantly argued and precise.and#8221;
and#147;In this terrific book, Farmelo tells the story of the United Kingdomand#8217;s nuclear program, which began with pioneering work in Cambridge before World War II and ultimately merged with the United Statesand#8217; Manhattan Project. The book is built around a compelling portrait of Churchill that demonstrates the variability of his judgment.... Farmelo demonstrates that although principles and evidence often shape the relationship between science and policy, personality and politics play just as large a role.and#8221;
Wall Street Journal
and#147;This book...shows a keen sense of the human comedy. Who were these people, and why did they behave the way they did?and#8221;
Telegraph, Best Books of 2014
and#147;A superb study of Churchilland#8217;s little-known interest in atomic weapons claims Churchill was the first British prime minister to foresee the potential of the nuclear age.and#8221;
The Daily Beast
and#147;This is a complex and engrossing history with obvious geopolitical import, but whatand#8217;s most interesting is the human drama involving Churchill, FDR, and the constellation of scientific egos circling around them. Farmelo also wonderfully draws out Churchilland#8217;s surprising futurism, bound up with a strain of fatalism.and#8221;
"Graham Farmelo's very fine book ... illuminates the nexus between science, politics, war, and even literature better than anything I have read for some time. The issues it raises are both eternal and especially pressing now. It is not yet Book of the Year time but this has to be a contender."
and#147;[A] dazzling book.... Farmelo, prize-winning biographer of the physicist Paul Dirac, recounts this important story with skill and erudition.and#8221;
The Times (UK)
and#147;Churchilland#8217;s Bomb tells an even more dramatic story [than Farmelo told in The Strangest Man], and tells it brilliantly.... There are many books about the creation of nuclear weapons and even more about Churchill, but Farmeloand#8217;s is the first that explains the latterand#8217;s role in the former.... Farmelo ingeniously interweaves the narratives of the nuclear scientists, many of them Jewish refugees from Germany, with that of Churchill in war and peace. As the Americans enter the picture the story becomes fiendishly complicated, but the author never loses the thread.and#8221;
The London Review of Books
and#147;Compelling.... The value of Farmeloand#8217;s book is in its meticulous attention to the contingencies, accidents, uncertainties, inconsistencies and idiosyncratic personalities in the story of how Britain didnand#8217;t get the Bomb during the war and how it did get it afterwards. It could all have turned out differently and#150; but it didnand#8217;t.and#8221;
The Sunday Times
and#147;An excellent book.... Farmelo is a splendid word-portraitist, and his book charts the odysseys, geographical as well as scientific, of the men who played a key role in developing the bomb.... Authoritative and superbly readable.and#8221;
and#147;Farmeloand#8217;s writing is lyrical and#150; and is chock-full of personality.and#8221;
The New York Times Book Review
and#147;[Farmelo] tells this tale fluently.... Churchilland#8217;s Bomb illuminates significant flaws in Churchilland#8217;s personality, policies and leadership.and#8221;
and#147;Graham Farmelo presents us with a story and an analysis which are so fresh and compelling that we might feel we have come to both subjects [Churchill and the nuclear bomb] for the first time.... [S]crupulously researched and superbly written.... Farmeloand#8217;s style keeps us in suspense, and his book really is a page-turner. It is also a compendium of mini-biographies of all the significant players in this gargantuan story, each deftly and compassionately told, with touches of apt simile, wit and poignancy.... Churchilland#8217;s Bomb is a powerful and moving contribution to literature about the 20th century and to biographical and historical writing.and#8221;
and#147;[Churchilland#8217;s Bomb] scores some powerful points."
New York Review of Books
and#147;This book is the story of a love triangle. The three characters are Winston Churchill the statesman, H.G. Wells the writer, and Frederick Lindemann the scientist.... Graham Farmeloand#8217;s main subject is the personal rivalry surrounding the British nuclear weapons project, in which Winston Churchill played a leading part.and#8221;
and#147;On the eve of World War II, British scientists were well ahead of the United States in the basic research to make a nuclear weapon possible. How the United States wrested that leadership away from Great Britain is the topic of Graham Farmeloand#8217;s account of a little-known aspect of the war.... [T]his is an interesting story.and#8221;
Times Higher Education
and#147;Splendid and original.... Churchilland#8217;s Bomb is at once a tribute to Churchilland#8217;s foresight in seeing clearly in the inter-war period both the potential and the dangers of a form of energy that few believed would ever be harnessed, and a criticism of him for having allowed leadership in nuclear technology for industrial and military purposes to pass to the US.... In interweaving the political and the scientific, Farmelo succeeds in making the latter beautifully clear even to readers with scant background in the subject. His book also shows that the quarrels between scientists can be just as fierce as those between politicians.and#8221;
The Observer (UK)
and#147;[An] absorbing account of 20th century atomic politics.... Farmeloand#8217;s account of Churchilland#8217;s atomic dreams perfectly captures the essence of the man and of the science of the day.and#8221;
Observer, UK, Best Science Book of the Year
and#147;Farmelo provides us with a vision of a great leader, Churchill, who hesitated fatally when Britain was given, by the US, the offer of an equal share in the development of the A-bomb.... Offers intriguing insights into the pursuit of science then and now.and#8221;
and#147;Few writers can make the mechanics of H-bomb production interesting: Farmelo can. Churchilland#8217;s Bomb, equally as good as his award-winning biography of the physicist Paul Dirac (The Strangest Man), sheds light on a little-known aspect of Churchilland#8217;s life and does so with flair and narrative verve.and#8221;
and#147;There is nothing like the fear of annihilation to focus the best minds on taking us to the next level of technical achievement. Certainly this was Winston Churchilland#8217;s option. As biographer Graham Farmelo shows in Churchilland#8217;s Bomb, Churchill managed to redeem his faltering performance as a minister in the first world war by elevating the and#145;atomic bomband#8217; from a neologism created by H. G. Wells to an existential risk in one deft essay.and#8221;
and#147;In Churchilland#8217;s Bomb, science historian Graham Farmelo reconstructs this intense, delicate, and near-Faustian story with wit, detail, and richness.... [A] fine read for those who want a well written and researched single volume on atomic affairs from a British point of view.and#8221;
and#147;[A] very fine book.... Farmeloand#8217;s book illuminates the nexus between science, politics, war, and even literature better than anything I have read for some time. The issues it raises are both eternal and especially pressing now. It is not yet Book of the Year time but this has to be a contender.and#8221;
Gregg Easterbrook, Tuesday Morning Quarterback, ESPN.com
and#147;This important volume details the little-known story of how Churchill agreed to trust Englandand#8217;s fission research to FDR, even knowing The Bomb would make the United States king of the postwar world.and#8221;
Literary Review, UK
and#147;Graham Farmeloand#8217;s critique of Churchill is the central theme of a book that unfolds the whole story of the Anglo-American origins of the atom bomb. Superbly written, with a [Frederick] Lindemann-like flair for the translation of scientific data into laymanand#8217;s terms, it is a narrative driven by personalities rather than institutions and studded with memorable cameos of the scientists, politicians and bureaucrats involved.and#8221;
Winnipeg Free Press
and#147;[A] nuanced and engaging study of nuclear politics.... [A]n impressive effort, depicting British nuclear policy through a focus on Churchill and his scientists.and#8221;
and#147;Intriguing....Churchilland#8217;s Bomb is a story of abject failure by the man widely considered to be the greatest Briton ever to have lived.... [I]ts brilliance lies in the way the story is told, for it is a tale not just of physics or politics but also, more importantly, of people.and#8221;
and#147;The author, a physicist, ranges across Winston Churchilland#8217;s long career.... Farmelo is especially good on the Second World War years, revealing much about the Anglo-American relationship that has been guarded or unclear.... Colourful.and#8221;
America in WWII
and#147;Although Farmelo devotes a respectable number of words to explaining concepts related to nuclear science, his background material is well-written, and thereand#8217;s just enough to set the scene. He builds the framework of his argument around the intriguing and complex relationships of the players and#150; and how could he go wrong when the central player is Winston Churchill?and#8221;
and#147;Science historian Farmelo ends each chapter with a cliffhanger that will keep readers paging through this thoroughly researched, detailed history of Britainand#8217;s involvement with nuclear energy in the WWII era and beyond.... Farmeloand#8217;s prose moves quickly with much action; he evokes a sense of place and time with details of daily life.... Highly recommended for those with an interest in weaponry, the WWII era, and British history.and#8221;
and#147;[A] nicely detailed and balanced record of the British ambivalence toward building an atom bomb in favor of the American effort.... A tremendously useful soup-to-nuts study of how Britain and the U.S. embraced a frightening atomic age.and#8221;
and#147;Farmelo presents a well-written and deeply researched account of Britainand#8217;s engagement in atomic research.... Farmeloand#8217;s study provides an excellent assessment of Churchilland#8217;s role in the British effort and complements Richard Rhodesand#8217;s classic The Making of the Atomic Bomb. A fine addition to the existing literature on the subject.and#8221;
Roger Highfield, Science Museum executive, Daily Telegraph columnist, and bestselling science writer
and#147;A riveting, powerful, and timely reminder that high politics is anything but rational. Graham Farmelo vividly reveals how Winston Churchill learned about atomic physics in the 1920s, warned about the imminence of nuclear weapons in the 30s, and yet, paradoxically, squandered Britain's lead in the field during the Second World War.and#8221;
Andrew Brown, author of Keeper of the Nuclear Conscience
"Churchilland#8217;s curiosity about science is perhaps the least studied aspect of his character. Graham Farmelo remedies that deficit in masterful style, beginning with Churchilland#8217;s admiration for H G Wells and ending with a poignant portrait of the elderly statesman brooding over the prospect of nuclear Armageddon."
Sir Michael Berry, University of Bristol
and#147;What a brilliant and compelling book! Graham Farmelo sensitively and eloquently deconstructs the twists and turns of Winston Churchilland#8217;s involvement with nuclear weapons over nearly half a century, setting this unfamiliar tale in the context of the turbulent times. At its heart are the ambiguities of the World War II relationship between a scientifically innovative but economically weakened Britain and the inexhaustibly energetic USA with unlimited resources.and#8221;
James W. Muller, University of Alaska, Anchorage
and#147;An excellent book. Graham Farmelo draws on many sources to show how Churchill, his scientific adviser Frederick Lindemann, and a host of other scientists and politicians developed the atomic bomb. Churchilland#8217;s Bomb brings these characters back to life with anecdotes, quotations, and personal sketches. But Farmeloand#8217;s book does more than unfold the hopes, doubts, and fears engendered by the bomb: it illuminates the relationship between big science and modern democracy.and#8221;
Mary Jo Nye, Professor of History Emerita, Oregon State University, and author of Michael Polanyi and His Generation
and#147;This is a fascinating book. Graham Farmelo offers a fresh and thoroughly researched history of the development of atomic weapons in his insightful and engaging account of Winston Churchilland#8217;s failure to forge a partnership of equal exchange between Great Britain and the United States in the development of the bomb. Farmelo offers vivid vignettes of political and scientific personalities, with special attention to the widely disliked Oxford physicist Frederick Lindemann, who became Churchilland#8217;s science and technology guru in the 1920s.and#8221;
and#8220;Asks important questions, not just about twentieth-century German science but about the nature of science and the response of scientists to the political world we perforce inhabit. All scientists should read and ponder its contents.and#8221;
and#8220;Ball does an outstanding service by reminding us how powerful and sometimes confusing the pressures were and how it was not implausible to think that scientists could and should stay and#8216;above politics.and#8217; . . . Packed with dramatic, moving, and even comical moments.and#8221;
and#8220;Balland#8217;s book shows what can happen to morality when cleverness and discovery are valued above all else.and#8221;
and#8220;A fascinating account of the moral dilemmas faced by German physicists working within Nazism. Impeccably researched.and#8221;
and#8220;A fine book.and#8221;
and#8220;How much did Nazism compromise its scientists? In this polished account, Ball finds that the jury is still out, even as the evidence mounts and the pursuit of firsthand records and documentary testimony continues.and#8221;
andldquo;A fair-minded and meticulous assessment of the generally weak-kneed response, and especially of the actions of three non-Jewish physicists in Germany, all Nobel laureates.andrdquo;
andldquo;The biggest problem with the behavior of Heisenberg, Planck, and Debye is not, Ball suggests, that they failed to actively resist the Nazis. After all, he writes, andlsquo;it is a brave person who asserts without hesitation that he or she would have done better.andrsquo; Instead, it is their failure even to engage with the idea that they, as scientists, bore some responsibility for the work they did and the regime under which they did it. Being an andlsquo;apolitical scientistandrsquo; is itself a political decision, Ball argues, and as his book demonstrates, it is not always the right one.andrdquo;
andldquo;I have been studying this subject for decades, but I found new things in Ballandrsquo;s book. He has put the material together in an accessible way, and there is an extensive bibliography for people who would like to dig deeper.andrdquo;
andldquo;Serving the Reich is a remarkable achievementandmdash;not only for its popularization of historical debates but also for the depth of its analysis. Both the layperson interested in the moral dilemma of physicists under Hitler and the historian familiar with the controversial debates will find Ballandrsquo;s account highly instructive.andrdquo;
andldquo;This is an outstanding work about the social responsibility of scientists, exemplified by considering the actions of three Nobelist physicists during the Nazi regime in Germany:and#160;Max Planck, Peter Debye, and Werner Heisenberg.and#160; . . . Ball, a journalist and prolific author chronicles the pressures on these men to expel Jews from their posts before the war and to pursue war research and support the Nazi ideology during the war. and#160;The retrospective furor about their alleged collaboration, accommodation, or resistance motivates Ball to reconstruct their dilemmas and responses.and#160; The conflicting accounts of Heisenbergandrsquo;s role in the atomic bomb project are carefully reviewed and their ambiguity noted and discussed.and#160; In these episodes, Ball thoughtfully navigates the nuances of attaching motives to acts, avoiding justifying the more strident contemporary accusations and exoneration.and#160; This is a stunning cautionary tale, well researched and told. Essential.andrdquo;
Perhaps no scientific breakthrough has shaped the course of human history as much as the harnessing of the atom. Yet the twentieth century might have turned out entirely differently had this powerful technology stayed under the control of Great Britain, whose scientists spearheaded the Allies nuclear arms program at the outset of World War II. As award-winning science historian Graham Farmelo reveals in Churchills Bomb
, Britains supposedly visionary leader remained unconvinced of the potentially earth-shattering implications of his physicists research. Churchill ultimately shared Britains nuclear secrets withand ceded its initiative toAmerica, whose successful development and deployment of an atomic bomb placed the United States in a position of supreme power at the dawn of the Nuclear Age.
A groundbreaking investigation of the twentieth centurys most important scientific discovery, Churchills Bomb reveals the secret history of the weapon that transformed modern geopolitics.
After World War II, most scientists in Germany maintained that they had been apolitical or actively resisted the Nazi regime, but the true story is much more complicated. In Serving the Reich
, Philip Ball takes a fresh look at that controversial history, contrasting the career of Peter Debye, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin, with those of two other leading physicists in Germany during the Third Reich: Max Planck, the elder statesman of physics after whom Germanyand#8217;s premier scientific society is now named, and Werner Heisenberg, who succeeded Debye as director of the institute when it became focused on the development of nuclear power and weapons. and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;
Mixing history, science, and biography, Balland#8217;s gripping exploration of the lives of scientists under Nazism offers a powerful portrait of moral choice and personal responsibility, as scientists navigated and#147;the grey zone between complicity and resistance.and#8221; Balland#8217;s account of the different choices these three men and their colleagues made shows how there can be no clear-cut answers or judgement of their conduct. Yet, despite these ambiguities, Ball makes it undeniable that the German scientific establishment as a whole mounted no serious resistance to the Nazis, and in many ways acted as a willing instrument of the state.
Serving the Reich considers what this problematic history can tell us about the relationship of science and politics today. Ultimately, Ball argues, a determination to present science as an abstract inquiry into nature that is and#147;above politicsand#8221; can leave science and scientists dangerously compromised and vulnerable to political manipulation.
About the Author
Philip Ball is a freelance writer who lives in London. He worked for over twenty years as an editor at Nature, writes regularly in the scientific and popular media, and has authored many books on the interactions of the sciences, the arts, and the wider culture.
Table of Contents
Introduction: and#145;Nobel Prize-winner with dirty handsand#8217;
1 and#145;As conservatively as possible'
2 and#145;Physics must be rebuiltand#8217;
3 and#145;The beginning of something newand#8217;
4 and#145;Intellectual freedom is a thing of the pastand#8217;
5 and#145;Service to science must be service to the nationand#8217;
6 and#145;There is very likely a Nordic scienceand#8217;
7 and#145;You obviously cannot swim against the tideand#8217;
8 and#145;I have seen my death!and#8217;
9 and#145;As a scientist or as a manand#8217;
10 and#145;Hitherto unknown destructive powerand#8217;
11 and#145;Heisenberg was mostly silentand#8217;
12 and#145;We are what we pretend to beand#8217;
Epilogue: and#145;We did not speak the same languageand#8217;