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Brotherhood of the Bomb    by Gregg Herken order for
Brotherhood of the Bomb
by Gregg Herken
Order:  USA  Can
Owl, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Brotherhood of the Bomb focuses on the stories of the three physicists (Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence and Edward Teller), who constituted the primary scientific forces behind the development of the atomic bomb. The author judiciously examines their personalities, and the changing and often tempestuously conflicting relationships between them, and with the military and civilian guardians set to oversee their work and to provide security.

Oppenheimer tends to overshadow the story due to the controversy over his alleged Communist links and his opposition to the secrecy of the weapons program, for which he was, unjustly as many believe, stripped of his security clearance in the McCarthy era. However, the other characters are fascinating in their own right: the empire building gadgeteer, Lawrence; Teller, driven from first Stalinist Russia and then Nazi Germany, and now driven to produce ever bigger and better bombs; General Leslie Groves, in charge of the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, who for unknown reasons allowed a suspicious connection between Oppenheimer and a friend who may have been acting for Soviet Intelligence, to go unexplained; and Oppenheimer's determined nemesis, Lewis Strauss.

Herken provides a realistic and balanced picture of the scientific community, cooperating in an extraordinary undertaking, but still pervaded by competitive jealousy and old grudges, with the varying attitudes to socialism and communism adding virulence to the mix. His story is authoritative and meticulously detailed, and, taken as a whole, provides a tragi-comic morality tale on the conflict between science and politics.

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