Hiroshima & Hagasaki Revisited.
Purchased from the Atomic Museum bookstore in Albuquerque, this book details the experiences of the only crewmember to fly on both atomic bomb strike missions. He intersperses his 1945 accounts with a visitation to Japan in 1985 for the 40th bomb anniversary.
The Day After Trinity DVD.
Has interviews with Frank Oppenheimer, I.I. Rabi, Robert Wilson and his wife, Robert Serber, Hans Bethe, Freeman Dyson, and a couple of others that I’ll think of in a moment. A very good account following the Trinity explosion (plus interviews with local New Mexico people who were around at the time), then the decision to drop the bomb, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its aftermath, with lots of first-hand reactions of those who were there.
Atoms in the Family : My Life with Enrico Fermi
The story of life in Italy in earlier years, and the creeping changes of fascism under Mussolini, leaving Italy upon winning the Nobel prize, life in America, and the secret project of the early 40s. After reading Rhodes and Szasz, which delve into what were then national secrets, complete with technicalities explained for the lay person, I found Fermi’s account a revelation. She lived so close to it all, and yet, not having clearance, didn’t understand —at the time— what was taking place. Her memoir recounts the events (with the benefit of post-war hindsight) while simultaneously describing her perspective from that time, when she was not in the know.
Fermi, Rachel and Samra, Esther
Picturing the Bomb: Photographs from the Secret World of the Manhattan Project
I bought this book, along with the Szasz book, at the White Sands National Monument gift shop the day after visiting the Trinity site in October of 2000. I understand it is now out of print (hence the price tags you see on Amazon). It’s a picture book, the story told in pictures. Fermi and Samra collect photographs from the archives and from family albums of those who participated at the time. An incredible work.
I first “got to know” Groves via Rhodes and Szasz. He was viewed with a kind of suspicion by the physicists, at least where their living hardships were concerned (security procedures, no running water at Los Alamos, insistence upon holding the test during sub-optimal weather conditions, etc.). So I approached this book with skepticism (oh all right, I know I really oughtta read it from his perspective.) I was pleasantly surprised. This book could be a management primer, a Getting Things Done memoir (Groves built the Pentagon and then was assigned to direct the Manhattan Project), with lessons learned and all that… and a canny view of human nature (at one point Groves says that not saying anything during a certain meeting was the hardest thing to do, because he didn’t want to display lack of confidence in someone whom he’d assigned to a task). Groves was involved in so many aspects of the war, from tapping scientists who set up the lab at Los Alamos to construction and operation of the reactor in Hanford, WA, and the uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, TN, to overseas spying and special ops to ensure that the Nazis could not move forward with any of their parallel plans to construct a bomb, to securing the world’s supplies of uranium, to directing the mission in the Pacific to drop the bomb. At one point the U.S. was negotiating some form of agreement with the British, and Groves insisted on adding clauses that would rest authority in the U.S. Congress once the nation was back on a peacetime footing. Highly refreshing, that. Groves also provides a picture of a wartime era that’s different from what we see today, what with army censors who shut off the flow of information to the public. And in the story that’s probably the most astonishing, given the current national mood, Groves describes how he cultivated his relationship with the duPont company (to build and operate the reactors in Hanford), and how the board of directors came to approve the government contract (for costs + $1.00).
As the directors entered the room at their next Board meeting, they were asked not to look at the faced-down papers on the table in front of them. Carpenter explained that the Executive Committee was recommending that du Pont accept a contract from the government for a project in a previously unexplored field so large and so difficult that it would strain the capacity of company to the utmost. He added that there were elements of hazard in it that under certain conditions could very well seriously damage if not well-nigh destroy du Pont. He said that the highest officials in the government, as well as those who knew the most about it, considered it to be of the highest military importance. Even its purpose was held in extreme secrecy, although if any Board member wished to he was free to read the faced-down papers before voting. Not a single man, and they were all heavy stockholders, turned them over before voting [unanimous] approval—or afterwards—a true display of real patriotism [p. 51]
He provides a picture of that time—and, by comparison— how different it is from our own.
Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb
An examination of Oppenheimer’s life, with events before and after the Manhattan Project. After reading the authoritative Rhodes, I was a bit disappointed by some of the descriptions of events where Larsen’s narrative overlaps. But then, her focus is on one man, and not the whole project. And her volume is slim, approachable, and easily completed. And Larsen does provide a few time-and-date based tidbits that I’ve been happy to include in this 1945 retrospective. Also, the account of Oppenheimer’s life continues beyond the war’s end to the hearings where his security clearance was revoked, and I’ve a much better sense about it after reading Larsen than I did from other sources I’ve read. That said, I’m looking forward, time permitting, to reading the hefty and thorough (25-years-in-the-making) American Prometheus bio of Oppenheimer (published 2005, written by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin). I expect that it will satisfy where Larsen did not.
Mee, Charles L. Jr.
Meeting at Potsdam (Pax Americana Series)
I confess that I’ve only read this book in fits and starts. It has profound time-and-place detail, and sets the stages for each of the Big Three that attended the meeting in the weeks and days preceding.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb
I could attempt to describe this book in detail. Or I could say, “This is the most detailed and authoritative book on the making of the bomb. Read it.” It’s the definitive tome; it won multiple awards (Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critic’s Cirlce Award) and the inside front page has glowing reviews by a half-dozen men, all participants in the story, and all Nobel laureates. He traces events from discoveries about the atom to the setting of the time, and mechanized technologies of killing in World War I, to each new physics experiment and theory that leads to the realization—that it might be possible to split a certain atom with a single neutron and it would emit two neutrons, thereby causing more atoms to split, and thereby create a chain reaction that released untold amounts of energy. From there the book follows the course of the war in Europe and the making of the bomb in the United States, finishing with Hiroshiima and Nagasaki. It’s comprehensive: every book in this list save Larsen and Fermi & Samra is a resource for The Making of The Atomic Bomb. Well, okay, Rhodes wrote the introduction to Fermi & Samra’s work.
I read the paragraphs describing the Trinity plutonium bomb explosion—with beautifully crafted sentences devoted to a phenomenon of millionths of seconds—aloud to my boyfriend, Doc M, the Caltech and Stanford grad, and radar engineer. “That’s good technical writing,” he said. Which is a good endorsement, especially since I’d swooned over the brilliant prose in a much slimmer science tome, The Emperor of Scent, and gnashed that I’d never be able to write like Chandler Burr, dammit, gnash, never ever, dammit!—only to have Doc M finally pick the book up and later on exclaim how that Burr completely missed the point that his protagonist was trying to make. So, it’s good science writing for the layperson. Boggling still (these are not easy concepts), but we most definitely get the idea. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
Szasz, Ferenc Morton
The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion, July 16, 1945
A much slimmer volume than Rhodes, Szasz concentrates on the Trinity test itself, starting far enough back to get a sense of what this whole atomic radioactive endeavor with a lengthy introduction to the Manhattan Project. His account is very local to the Jornada del Muerto, what with the construction of the site, and, in the time before the blast, insightful discussions of ideal—and undesireable—weather conditions. He carefully follows the events leading up to the test and the test itself. Following the blast, Szasz follows the pursuit of measurements of radioactivity in the surrounding region, from anecdotes of those living nearby to what the radioactivity readings were for this or that areaunder which the radioactive cloud passed. He concludes with discussions of the aftermath—local and international. He offers the two theories of why the bomb was dropped on Japan, adding a third reason—the project’s momentum was itself unstoppable.
Day One: Before Hiroshima and After
Received this book in the mail from Mom. Flipped to the Hiroshima strike part, and found one description of the moment of the blast. I have no idea what the rest of the book is like.