It is simply astounding that the atom was not proven by science until the late 1800’s and yet within a half a century atomic weapons were built and used successfully. The Manhattan Project began in 1939 and detonated a bomb by July 1945, an undertaking costing $2 billion, equaling over $25 billion today.
Richard Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize for his exhaustive history of those sixty years in The Making of the Atomic Bomb. There is no better one volume chronicle of this period. At just under 800 pages, it is a dense, but satisfying read, and goes into detail not just on the engineering of the bomb but also the science behind nuclear fission, including the men and women toiling away across the globe, many working independent of one another.
With a near daily stream of stories about the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and Iran, Rhodes’ book has never been more critical for those that want to understand the early history of these terrible weapons. Be it nuclear war or nuclear accident, the end of the Cold War did not signal the demise of atomic devastation hanging over all our heads.