'An excellent introduction to a vast and complicated topic... a brisk, exciting and comprehensive narrative' – New York Times
An epic story of science and technology at the very limits of human understanding; a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.
Rich in personality, action, confrontation and deception, Atomic is the first fully realized popular account of the race between Nazi Germany, Britain, America and the Soviet Union to build atomic weapons. The book draws on declassified material such as MI6’s Farm Hall transcripts, coded Soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the Soviet archives.
Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a monumental book that spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to ‘Joe-1’, the first Soviet atomic bomb test in August 1949. It includes dramatic episodes such as the sabotage of the Vemork heavy-water plant by Norwegian commandos and the infamous meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, the subject of Michael Frayn’s stage play ‘Copenhagen’. Baggott also tells of how Allied scientists were directly involved in the hunt for their German counterparts in war-torn Europe following D-Day, and brings to light the reactions of captured German scientists on hearing of the Allied success at Hiroshima.
Why did physicists persist in developing the atomic bomb, despite the devastation that it could bring? Why, despite having a clear head start, did Hitler’s physicists fail? To what extent did the Soviet atomic programme rely on intelligence gathered by spies such as Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall, David Greenglass and the Rosenbergs? Did the Allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb programme? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? The book answers these and many other questions.