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Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists

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An account of the remarkable scientists who discovered that nuclear fission was possible and then became concerned about its implications. Index. Translated by James Cleugh.


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An account of the remarkable scientists who discovered that nuclear fission was possible and then became concerned about its implications. Index. Translated by James Cleugh.

30 review for Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nadine

    The thing I remember most about this book was the sense of Greek tragedy unfolding, as the Americans raced to finish the bomb, fearful that the Nazis would get there first. Meanwhile the scientists who were working for the Nazis dragged their feet as much as they could. As a reader you can see both sides but they could not see each other, and there is no hope that the ending will be different than what you know; you continue reading but with a strong sense of fatalism, more than any book I read The thing I remember most about this book was the sense of Greek tragedy unfolding, as the Americans raced to finish the bomb, fearful that the Nazis would get there first. Meanwhile the scientists who were working for the Nazis dragged their feet as much as they could. As a reader you can see both sides but they could not see each other, and there is no hope that the ending will be different than what you know; you continue reading but with a strong sense of fatalism, more than any book I read I think.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Henning

    "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." This book was written back in the 1950s and should still be a warning to all of us today. We are literally sitting on weapons that could easily extinguish the entire human race within a couple weeks. Robert Jungk created an outstanding documentation about the global race to the nuclear bomb which basically started with the discovery of the neutron and its possible applications by James Chadwick back in 1932. The university of Göttingen was a ho "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." This book was written back in the 1950s and should still be a warning to all of us today. We are literally sitting on weapons that could easily extinguish the entire human race within a couple weeks. Robert Jungk created an outstanding documentation about the global race to the nuclear bomb which basically started with the discovery of the neutron and its possible applications by James Chadwick back in 1932. The university of Göttingen was a hotspot for nuclear physicists in the 1920s and early 1930s. J. Robert Oppenheimer and Werner Heisenberg for example studied and worked there. With the rise of Nazi Germany most of them were forced to leave the country to be able to continue their work in the academic world. Two of them were Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer which both should play a major role later. Oppenheimer was appointed as director of the Manhattan-Project in 1943 while Einstein was able to connected the physicists with the politics due to his kind of stardom. It took a couple of years before the US government was willing to really put effort into the development of a nuclear bomb. With the great fear that Hitler could be able to use nuclear bombs way earlier than the US they worked really hard to win this race without thinking about the great danger of their new discovery. It was fascinating to see how the minds of the physicists changed from being enthusiastic to being very concerned about the danger of such a deadly weapon as soon as the US physicists realized that Nazi Germany wasn't even working on it. Due to Hitlers instruction, all new weapons had to be ready for action within six weeks after the construction started and it was just not possible to develop a nuclear bomb within this short period of time. Some physicist like Werner Heisenberg who stayed in Nazi Germany started to influence the German regime so that they would not start the development of the bomb. In 1945 the US regime and the US nuclear physicists had huge discussions about how they should present the new weapon to the world. Many of them voted for a presentation in a desert where nobody can be killed. Some of them voted for Hiroshima or even for the historically significant Kyoto. Most physicists just wanted to show that this type of weapon should not be used in the future and they suggested that there should be some kind of a global monitoring of all that's going on in the nuclear science. After Germany already surrendered and Japan already was open for surrender negotiations the US under president Harry S. Truman decided to shock the world with their basically last minute attack against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two bombs alone killed over 200.000 people and even more suffered of some kind of cancer later.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris S

    Utterly terrifying. 'If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the Mighty One -' ... 'I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds' - Bhagavad Gita (uttered by Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, upon seeing the first ever nuclear mushroom cloud)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    The title quote suggests that this book is more exciting than any novel and it is so very true. As exciting as it is scary. Detailed depiction of choices, circumstances and small incidents, all of which led to complete destroying of two cities, extinction of almost 300000 people and contamination by both atomic and thermonuclear weapon. And although author does not refrain himself from exploring personal stories of involved individuals it is more of “the bigger picture” book. Starting as a histo The title quote suggests that this book is more exciting than any novel and it is so very true. As exciting as it is scary. Detailed depiction of choices, circumstances and small incidents, all of which led to complete destroying of two cities, extinction of almost 300000 people and contamination by both atomic and thermonuclear weapon. And although author does not refrain himself from exploring personal stories of involved individuals it is more of “the bigger picture” book. Starting as a history of brilliant physicists at the dawn of the 20th century, this book slowly reveals historical, political and human aspects to the problems of nuclear weapon in the most unstable time. The author did a great job placing pieces of the puzzle together in thorough yet elegant manner.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Arun Tejasvi

    The book presents vivid descriptions of what happened behind the scenes during the development of the atomic bomb and presents an amazing story of how the scientific community first lobbied the U.S. government to build the bomb and then struggled to prevent them from using it. I haven't read a better account of the moral quandaries that scientists at that time faced. As with all good historical accounts, it remains incredibly relevant today.

  6. 5 out of 5

    James Smith

    An interesting book. It's a book about people. Very little scientific or technical detail is mentioned, but the interactions between the various scientists (initially), military and political figures are mostly discussed. Interesting things to note here are the effects of the secrecy in the American government's operations. For example, at the end of the Second World War, the State Department knew very well that Japan was close to surrender, but they had no idea about the atomic bomb. Los Alomos An interesting book. It's a book about people. Very little scientific or technical detail is mentioned, but the interactions between the various scientists (initially), military and political figures are mostly discussed. Interesting things to note here are the effects of the secrecy in the American government's operations. For example, at the end of the Second World War, the State Department knew very well that Japan was close to surrender, but they had no idea about the atomic bomb. Los Alomos on the other hand, was under the impression that Japan was nowhere close to surrender. Similarly, the Allied powers were all sure that Hitler was building the bomn, so they hurried to do the research themselves, but in reality it seems that the Nazis weren't that interested. The book seems to have been written in the mid-to-late 50s, so it covers a bit of the conflict between Teller and everyone else regarding whether to build a "super" or thermonuclear bomb (which of course they do in the end). It concludes with an account of the fall of Oppenheimer.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shweta Ramdas

    How accountable are scientists to be for the future consequences of their inventions? Should they remain within their domains of technical expertise, or should they step out to participate in political decisions? This is the primary question that "Brighter than a Thousand Suns" deals with. It is more an account of the minds behind the invention of the atomic bomb and less about the actual science. It is also about the many accidents of fate that brought about the development of the bomb. These c How accountable are scientists to be for the future consequences of their inventions? Should they remain within their domains of technical expertise, or should they step out to participate in political decisions? This is the primary question that "Brighter than a Thousand Suns" deals with. It is more an account of the minds behind the invention of the atomic bomb and less about the actual science. It is also about the many accidents of fate that brought about the development of the bomb. These certainly made me wonder if the bomb would have developed in an age of Wikileaks, when there is considerably less left to guesswork! It's not like the issues in the book aren't relevant today. There still is a moratorium on genetic editing of human embryos; eugenics is the elephant in the golden shiny room that CRISPR has unlocked. This is an important book for scientists: our inventions/discoveries can take paths we could never guess. The sooner we start thinking about these questions, the better.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shiven Shiven

    One of the best books which i read recently. This not only gives a vivid description of the events that actually changed the world scenario and got us into an arms race but also describes the science events in a story telling fashion which makes episodes like electron discovery as a heart warming event to even the layman. The story line is absolutely mind boggling and portrayal of the human side of some of the world famous scientists was a discovery in itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and s One of the best books which i read recently. This not only gives a vivid description of the events that actually changed the world scenario and got us into an arms race but also describes the science events in a story telling fashion which makes episodes like electron discovery as a heart warming event to even the layman. The story line is absolutely mind boggling and portrayal of the human side of some of the world famous scientists was a discovery in itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and so earnestly wish that there should have been a part II to this.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Slow Reader

    His descriptions of German escapees fleeing death under Nazism, "the Institute's" paranoid functioning, Einstein's untoward letter, Oppenheimer's tragic affair with a communist past lover, the ridiculous ordeal of Bikini Island, and the softly obliterating inevitability for those not in Japan of what happened when the bomb dropped stay with this reader--horrifying doesn't come close. It's only been 75 years(ish) since this all happened. We have Wifi now and stuff

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Cahillane

    Written in 1956 while the central players were still alive but after the "Atoms for Peace" conference and associated thawing of secrecy, the best non-fiction account I've read of the people behind the atomic and hydrogen bombs.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nate Hendrix

    Did not like it and did not finish it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut

    Read thai translation version. Love the content. Don’t like the translated language and style.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aakif Ahmad

    This is an amazing book. Told in narrative, story-like form, the author recreates the story of how scientific research evolved from one driven by love of knowledge and cross-border collaboration to one that became mired in politics and personal glory. He tells this story within the context of the preeminent scientific pursuit of the late 19th/early 20th century: the discovery of nuclear fission and the construction of the atomic bomb. The characters are so many of the names we know: Ernest Ruthe This is an amazing book. Told in narrative, story-like form, the author recreates the story of how scientific research evolved from one driven by love of knowledge and cross-border collaboration to one that became mired in politics and personal glory. He tells this story within the context of the preeminent scientific pursuit of the late 19th/early 20th century: the discovery of nuclear fission and the construction of the atomic bomb. The characters are so many of the names we know: Ernest Rutherford, Neils Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Heisenberg, Planck, Einstein, Oppenheimer, among many others who are not as well known, but critical (both in the scientific, military and political communities). The writing style is fluid and engaging and the author's extremely detailed research is evident in how easily he moves in simple sentence and paragraphs across complex subject matter and complex interpersonal relationships between the dozens of scientists whose life work merged into the this scientific journey of epic scale. The story telling his humorous at times, poignant, and brings to life the imperfect route, laiden with missteps, imperfect communication, greed; the personal conflicts felt by many of the scientists as they wrestled with the enormity of their work and the implications for humanity; and the underlying motivation of fear that scientsits of the allied forces had to get their first, before the Gernams or Russians. The drama, anxiety and intensity is captured beautifully by the author, leading up to the very difficult moment (for any one reading this book) when in just a few sentences, the bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and one is left to simple reflect and make one's own quite judgement on the enormous loss of life that resulted, and the sharp right turn human history took, when it realized that it had discovered a way to completely annhilate itself. What is unique about this book, is througouth the story, the author keeps his own opinions on the matter visible but not distracting - he is documenting history, but told in the voice and experience of the actors and he does a really magnificent job.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    One of the New Scientist Top 25 Most Influential Popular Science Books (all of which I plan to read eventually), and mentioned in a recent read by Martin Gardner. Fascinating. Part history, part biography, part political commentary, part social commentary, and part melodrama ("But Teller was not made to march with the rank and file.") unkind to Oppenheimer, but then the times and history were unkind...an unkindness that unfortunately passed to his children, or at least his daughter. Jungk seemed a One of the New Scientist Top 25 Most Influential Popular Science Books (all of which I plan to read eventually), and mentioned in a recent read by Martin Gardner. Fascinating. Part history, part biography, part political commentary, part social commentary, and part melodrama ("But Teller was not made to march with the rank and file.") unkind to Oppenheimer, but then the times and history were unkind...an unkindness that unfortunately passed to his children, or at least his daughter. Jungk seemed at times in this English translation full of adoration for these scientists and at other times condemning. I wonder if the German (Jungk was Austrian) original was as lyrical, poetic, or dramatic as the translation. Though I took German in high school, I remember near none and have no intention of reading this in its original language, so must be content with this. Again, fascinating...and as a young man, I might have read it with less of a skeptical eye. Still, an enjoyable read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Glglgl

    Robert Jungk beleuchtet in seinem Buch die Entwicklung der ersten Kernwaffen und dabei die Rolle der Wissenschaftler in den westlichen Ländern, besonders der USA, sowie die Verhältnisse in Nazideutschland. Der Untertitel des Buches lautet "das Schicksal der Atomforscher", doch glücklicherweise reduziert der Autor die Verstrickungen der Beteiligten nicht aufs Schicksalhafte, noch nimmt er allzu einfache Schuldzuweisungen vor. Das Buch zielt nicht auf die Klärung der moralische Frage, sondern lief Robert Jungk beleuchtet in seinem Buch die Entwicklung der ersten Kernwaffen und dabei die Rolle der Wissenschaftler in den westlichen Ländern, besonders der USA, sowie die Verhältnisse in Nazideutschland. Der Untertitel des Buches lautet "das Schicksal der Atomforscher", doch glücklicherweise reduziert der Autor die Verstrickungen der Beteiligten nicht aufs Schicksalhafte, noch nimmt er allzu einfache Schuldzuweisungen vor. Das Buch zielt nicht auf die Klärung der moralische Frage, sondern liefert einen Bericht der Zeit zwischen den frühen Göttinger Tagen und dem Beginn des Wettrüstens nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg. Natürlich wirft sich die moralische Frage bei diesem Thema von selbst auf, doch der Autor hat der Verlockung widerstanden, sie moralisierend zu beantworten. Dafür danke ich ihm. Sein Stil ist klar und lesenswert. Obwohl das Buch aus den 60ern stammt, halte ich es immer noch für sehr lesenswert und spannend.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    In trying to struggle through reading Quantum, I recalled reading this book a fair amount of years ago. (It was much more readable than Quantum.) The story of the discovery of the theories of physics which lay behind the technology of the atomic bomb, the story of reducing the theory to the terrifying reality of the atomic bomb, and the insight to its terrible power, all left an impression on me. Admiration for the brilliance of those who discovered the theory, wonder at the technology combined w In trying to struggle through reading Quantum, I recalled reading this book a fair amount of years ago. (It was much more readable than Quantum.) The story of the discovery of the theories of physics which lay behind the technology of the atomic bomb, the story of reducing the theory to the terrifying reality of the atomic bomb, and the insight to its terrible power, all left an impression on me. Admiration for the brilliance of those who discovered the theory, wonder at the technology combined with a realization of the terrible power left me schizophrenice. Just like the human condition. I can remember one vivid scene in which one of the theorists was bragging to his girl friend when they looked at the sun in the sky that he knew why the sun was the way it was.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dr. M

    The author wanted to write a novel based on the development of the first atomic bomb. In the course of his research he realized that "facts were stranger than fiction" and decided to write facts instead of fiction. The book is an exciting experience on the beautiful years in Gottingen University where important original mathematical derivations were done on the coffee table in the cafeteria by great minds who discussed in the "rarefied atmosphere at the limits of human understanding". You will s The author wanted to write a novel based on the development of the first atomic bomb. In the course of his research he realized that "facts were stranger than fiction" and decided to write facts instead of fiction. The book is an exciting experience on the beautiful years in Gottingen University where important original mathematical derivations were done on the coffee table in the cafeteria by great minds who discussed in the "rarefied atmosphere at the limits of human understanding". You will see the great birth-pangs of ideas, pettiness of great scientists and the ultimate insensitivity of political leadership to human suffering. I recommend this book to every student and teacher of science and technology.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Though much of this information has undoubtedly been retread and updated many times over since this book was written more than 50 years ago, I imagine that the vast majority of it is still relevant and accurate. Moreover, the (former) timeliness of its subject matter, written in the middle of the great nuclear arms race, lends an immediacy to the writing that still resonates today. It certainly boosted by a significant degree my understanding of the scientific and political environment leading u Though much of this information has undoubtedly been retread and updated many times over since this book was written more than 50 years ago, I imagine that the vast majority of it is still relevant and accurate. Moreover, the (former) timeliness of its subject matter, written in the middle of the great nuclear arms race, lends an immediacy to the writing that still resonates today. It certainly boosted by a significant degree my understanding of the scientific and political environment leading up to the development of the first atomic bomb and its explosive successors.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leah G

    The history of the scientists who built the atomic bomb. Lots of personal, close up stories of the Manhattan Project and its people. Pretty good and accurate and detailed especially considering how close to the time it was written, before stuff got declassified, so it was hard to cover all aspects of the story- yet he had the advantage of things still being relatively current and fresh and all the people still being around...just be aware of the pros and cons when reading it. Good read though, f The history of the scientists who built the atomic bomb. Lots of personal, close up stories of the Manhattan Project and its people. Pretty good and accurate and detailed especially considering how close to the time it was written, before stuff got declassified, so it was hard to cover all aspects of the story- yet he had the advantage of things still being relatively current and fresh and all the people still being around...just be aware of the pros and cons when reading it. Good read though, for sure.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    I really enjoyed this book. It's beautifully written and reads like a novel. The book was published in 1956 so it has an urgency to it that most books on atomic history today lack. The drawback is that I feel it is overly hard on Oppenheimer. It boiled him down too much, and I feel misrepresents his relationships with Teller and Chevalier. It is interesting to read how people felt about him at the time though!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Oakhands

    This is truly an excellent book. One of the few I'd classify as must read, especially to anyone considering a life in the sciences. An account of the time, with source material from the who 's who of modern physics, uncluttered by anachronistic interperation. It might be interesting to get a footnoted updated version if it existed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andreea

    I never had any interest in science and I usually associated the names of the scientists with formulas. After I read this book I discovered that names like Curie, Einstein, Oppenheimer or Bohr are more than a mass of letters, they conceal feelings, memories, sacrifices.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mandeep Singh

    A wonderful read. The book was researched and written at the time most the scientists who contributed to the Manhattan Project were still alive. The account of the events that led up to it is very personal and engaging.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lysergius

    A short history of the development of the atomic bomb.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Domínguez Álvarez

    Todo un clásico de obligada lectura para los amantes de la historia que vivieron los físicos que intervinieron directa o indirectamente en el desarrollo de la guerra atómica.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    I read this in high school before I could really appreciate the bomb race and horizon of technology.... or non-fiction. It's really tremendous.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    Great personality based look at the Manhattan Project, focusing particularly on the leadership of the Los Alamos site. Good stuff.

  28. 4 out of 5

    MM Callahan

    Everything you ever wanted to know about the atom bomb, Manhattan Project and super nuclear science stuff!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Henri

    Well written story - relevant today when 70 years have gone by: http://thebulletin.org/multimedia/beg... Well written story - relevant today when 70 years have gone by: http://thebulletin.org/multimedia/beg...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ecamhi

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