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Editorial Reviews

Jim Baggott’s compelling examination of the atom stretches from 1939 and the discovery of nuclear fission to 1949, the first Soviet nuclear bomb test. While discussing military tactics, intrigue, and the international arms race, the audiobook centers on the physics and physicists who built the bomb; Baggott poses the question, "how did these otherworldly eggheads find themselves center stage in such a drama of heroic endeavor, sabotage, espionage, counterespionage, assassination, and terrible destruction that it now seems barely credible as fiction." With a matter-of-fact, journalistic, delivery Mark Ashby performs this accessible account that you don’t have to be a quantum physicist to enjoy.
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Publisher's Summary

An epic story of science and technology at the very limits of human understanding: the monumental race to build the first atomic weapons.
Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. 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 dramatic narrative that spans 10 historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to the aftermath of "Joe-1", August 1949's first Soviet atomic bomb test. 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? Could the Soviets have developed the bomb without spies like Klaus Fuchs or Donald Maclean? Did the allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb program? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? The First War of Physics is a grand and frightening story of scientific ambition, intrigue, and genius: a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.
©2010 Jim Baggott (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Trevor on 04-28-17

History, science, espionage, great read!

What did you love best about First War of Physics?

Very well written accounts of the events surrounding WWII and the Cold War.

What did you like best about this story?

The story would focus on the minor interactions and activities within the laboratory, then pan out into the political strife that would stir as a result. Leading with well known historic events, then detailing personal stories of the people involved was truly fascinating.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

This book took a very long time to listen through. It was great for my long commutes to work and weekend travels. This sort of read has taught me to value my traffic time, no joke.

Any additional comments?

As expected, this book is more world/political history than science history, but still a very lean mix of the two. I would recommend this book to anyone of any field, professional or academic.

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5 out of 5 stars
By Robert Townsend Reese on 04-12-14

Very enlightening!

This book really shines a bright light on a history that was previously unavailable. Baggot has provided a very concise history of the scientific discoveries that set the stage for the Manhattan Project, and documents American, British German and Russian efforts to harness nuclear power. My background as a nuclear engineer allowed me to easily follow the technical discussion, which might be difficult for the general reader.

The main thrust of the book is to try and understand why the great nuclear arms race started, and to discuss the role of the scientists in this. Baggot has done a good job of presenting the issues and personalities of the participants. He gives a good detailed presentations of why German scientists, despite a significant head start on understanding nuclear fission, were not able to make an atomic bomb, and how the Soviet Union successfully infiltrated the Manhattan Project, getting valuable information that allowed them to avoid technical pit falls.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and Mark Ashby gave an excellent narration. I gave the story 4 stars largely because, as I sighted above, the technical discussion may be difficult for the general reader.

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