Rhodes devotes almost the entire first third of The Making of the Atomic Bomb to introducing the international community of scientists whose work contributed to the development of the first atomic bomb. Rhodes provides biographical background on scientists from Denmark, Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Great Britain, and the United States. Even before the Manhattan Project formally brought these men and women together, many of them were either familiar with one another’s work, had communicated with one another, studied with one another, or collaborated on their research. For instance, several of them worked or studied at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in England. Further, the oppressive conditions in Germany under Hitler led many of these scientists who were Jewish to flee Nazi Germany, often settling in the United States or Britain. Rhodes explains in detail the ways in which the research, discoveries, and theoretical developments pioneered by each scientist or team of scientists drew from and added to the work of other scientists. Further, several scientists met informally in New York City and in Chicago, before the formulation of the Manhattan Project, to discuss strategies for alerting the United States government to the importance of developing an atomic bomb before Germany achieved the same end. For instance, several of them worked together at various points to draft letters to United States officials, explaining the urgency of the matter. Finally, the Manhattan Project itself, carried out simultaneously in several locations throughout the United States, represents the collaborative efforts of some of the most brilliant scientists of the twentieth century (many of whom were Nobel Prize winners in physics and chemistry).
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Rhodes is particularly concerned with the implications of nuclear warfare on the fate of the human race. Scientists working on the Manhattan Project were painfully aware of the potentially apocalyptic consequences of developing a weapon of mass destruction. Throughout their research, they debated and discussed the fate of world politics in the wake of atomic warfare. They had no doubt that the knowledge and resources to create nuclear weapons would be within the reach of many nations before long and that this could potentially result in mutual mass destruction by warring nations—the self-immolation of the human race. However, others felt convinced that, because such a universally horrific outcome could result from nuclear warfare, it might in fact be the cause of world peace. Some even believed that the potential for nuclear warfare would inevitably result in a new organization of world politics, whereby all nations would become one, and war would be completely abolished. Others were more cynical, foreseeing the horrors of implementing such a weapon. Rhodes spends considerable time quoting from interviews of victims of the bombing of Hiroshima, making vivid and visceral the effects of the bomb on human lives. He provides extensive descriptions of the aftermath of the bombing in which the charred flesh of the survivors, their skin hanging from their bodies like rags, is perhaps the most prominent image. Rhodes thus attempts to provide the reader with an idea of the deeply felt moral and ethical dilemmas of the scientists responsible for the bomb and the pure horror of the human suffering that resulted from their efforts.