Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The General and the Genius

Sorry this post is  late- finished the book late last night. 

The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer — The Unlikely Partnership that Built the Atom BombThe General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer — The Unlikely Partnership that Built the Atom Bomb by James Kunetka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. Much of what I have read has either focused on the strictly technical/scientific aspect of the work, Richard Feynman's part of the work and how he dealt with his ailing wife during the project, the decision to use the bomb, and drop the second one, the after effects of dropping the bomb/having the bomb.

This book does delve into some of the technical aspects (arguments over the gun vs implosion, and the different detonating devices etc) but not in an overly technical way, so that people with no science or technical backgrounds will still understand it. It talks about the challenges, the sheer infrastructure and logistics involved in the challenge, the bottlenecks caused by uranium and plutonium productions, the arguments between people who would go on to be seen as geniuses in the field. It is a lot about personalities. How they interacted, how they reacted to different decisions and situations. It is mostly about the relationship between Groves, a hard driving, get it done goal oriented career military man who wanted the weapon to end WWII, before the Germans developed something and then after the Germans' surrender wanted to use the device before the Army invaded Japan - at the presumed cost of thousands of lives American as well as Japanese, and Oppenheimer, a brilliant scientist who lurked at the edges of the physics of his day, ambitious, but never quite achieving the peer recognition he aimed for, chain smoking, self doubting, nervous introvert not necessarily ready for the roll he was thrust in. It detailed the effort Groves put in to pump up, enable and shelter Oppie. Groves almost is a guardian/father to Oppie when he most needs the unwavering support.

The end of the book, wraps up with the post war hearings, the second guessing, the moral dilemmas, the vilification of some players, how Oppenheimer in his vocalizations for the need for control of these massive weapons, becomes shut out of the process, Groves pissing off and alienating Eisenhower. It tells of the "rest of life" summary of various key people, and it summarizes the legacies- not just in terms of atomic warfare and weaponry but also how this was the first large scale government funded scientific endeavor, the use of committees formed to make decisions and manage the different groups of people that are then disbanded and new ones formed as the project moves forward in science research.

Once again, I really recommend this book, I learned a lot, and not jsut about the building of a bomb.

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