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Los Alamos Declassified (nybooks.com)
91 points by benbreen on Jan 16, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 18 comments

Interesting to note that 3 of the scientists working on the atomic bombs were actually Soviet spies or in some way passing information to the Soviet nuclear program.

Theodore Hall is particular is interesting because he did it believing that a single country having a monopoly on nuclear energy would result in another Nazi-like menace being unleashed on the world. Quite a mature and far-sighted opinion for someone only 19 years of age.

Definitely. You will notice that when you read about Fuchs on Wikipedia, there is no mention of his motives. Certainly he had some.

Regardless of whether the US would have become fascist, the Soviet Union was a brutal totalitarian regime. I see absolutely no reason to applaud anyone spying for them.

If anyone is interested in the biography of the Manhattan Project in general, including much of the goings-on at Los Alamos, I really must recommend Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" (http://www.amazon.com/The-Making-Atomic-Bomb-Anniversary/dp/...)

It's an excellent read, cover-to-cover. One of the few assigned books I read with excitement while in undergrad.

If you're already familiar with Manhattan Project histories, check out "Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall" (http://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-Uranium-Club-Secret-Recordings...), by physicist Jeremy Bernstein.

It's an account of the German nuclear programs, with the centrepiece being a curated set of transcripts from secret recordings of the candid conversations of a group of German scientists detained after the war.

Some vaguely YC-ish lessons on how their failure to produce could be attributed in many ways to seemingly mundane organizational structures that were debatably inherent to Nazi German society and internal politics.

Also some borderline pornographic payoff when they find out about Hiroshima. At the time, they were convinced they were 10 years ahead of anyone else, and were being detained as a prelude to being showered with honours and put in place to bring American and British science into the modern age. Then they set about convincing themselves they failed on purpose for moral reasons.

I'm in the middle of his 1996 follow up book, "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb" (http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Sun-Making-Hydrogen-Bomb/dp/06848...).

The book details the Soviet nuclear program, as well as the truly massive amount of espionage that was going on at the various locations of the Manhattan project.

Or, in Apple keynote style: "Richard Rhodes has introduced the best account of the development of the atomic bomb, a top-notch biography of the greatest minds of the 20th century, and a terrific summary of early-mid 20th century physics. These are NOT three separate books--this is one book, and he's calling it The Making of the Atomic Bomb."

Feynman looks like a smug teenager in http://assets.nybooks.com/media/img/slideshows/8611940694_88... I guess it makes sense, I just imagined him older in my head.

Well, to be truthful, judging by what I've read, he was a bit of a smug teenager. All his life.

Christ on a pogo stick, he was 25 and looked 15 (Feynman was born in 1918 and the caption says this was 1943).

For comparison, Agnew is 3 years younger than Feynman so he was 22 in that picture, and Luis Alvarez was 32.

I work for a home health company that specifically cares for sick employees of the nuclear era. People who worked at sites like Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Savannah River Site, Hanford and elsewhere. Some of their stories are really incredible - particularly the level of secrecy.

Sadly, many ended up getting sick due to the dangerous work environment. I've seen pictures of guys holding uranium rods with barely any protection.

Many wont speak or seek help because the secret nature of the sites is so engrained into their psyche.

> Sadly, many ended up getting sick due to the dangerous work environment. I've seen pictures of guys holding uranium rods with barely any protection.

This is often safe, actually, but that's not always the case. How safe can depend on a few factors, such as enrichment, purity, presence of neutron moderator (graphite, water, beryllium, etc...)

I've been within several feet of low-enrichment uranium rods before without any specific protection equipment (i.e. water) at one of the reactors I've visited.

Spent rods are definitely dangerous though.

>I've seen pictures of guys holding uranium rods with barely any protection.

I've done this and I'm okay.

I grew up in Los Alamos in the 1980s and 1990s and the detailed history of what happened on the receiving end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is still mostly glossed over. The story told is more about the heroic wartime feat of engineering that was the Manhattan Project. Even now that gets played up more. Since I left they installed a statue of Gen. Groves and Dr. Oppenheimer in one of the parks there.

John Hershey's Hiroshima is a good retelling of the horrors of the Little Boy experiment, if you are interested.

I highly recommend Masuji Ibuse's "Black Rain". Historical fiction, but beautiful and eye-opening. Deals with the Hiroshima bombing.

I highly recommend the book 109 East Palace, by Jennet Conant. It's a great look into the day-to-day life of the people working on the project, and some of the logistical challenges which were faced as everything scaled up.

Here's the obligatory reference to Feynman's biographies.

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