Critical Mass by Carter Plymton Hydrick

Critical Mass

How Nazi Germany Surrendered Enriched Uranium for the United States' Atomic Bomb
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A radically revisionist look at the race for the atomic bomb during World War II.

According to conventionally accepted history, the United States was the first country to invent an atomic bomb and, as a result, won the war against the Axis powers. However, author Hydrick argues that the U.S. government was actually unable to produce either enough enriched uranium or the trigger mechanism necessary for a fully functional device. Furthermore, he says, Hitler’s Germany did have enough bomb-grade uranium but ultimately made a calculated decision that it wasn’t in its best interest to use it, as it would have risked the equivalent of $2 billion on what was at best a Hail Mary pass. Instead, the author writes, Germany intended either to use the completed bomb as leverage in negotiations or to hand it off to Japan. The author asserts that one of Hitler’s most consequential advisers, Martin Bormann, did attempt to broker a deal with Japan but eventually secretly arranged to hand the materials over to the United States. In short, this book holds that America lost the arms race, and without Germany’s technological transfer, the consequence might have been a more powerful Soviet Union. In this third edition of his book, Hydrick addresses the criticism that if his account were true, there would have been massive amounts of unspent uranium left over, although none was ever found. But in fact, he says, 126,000 barrels have been discovered, further confirming his thesis. Hydrick’s theories are as provocative as they are meticulous; unlike other researchers who’ve focused on personal accounts and records in the National Archives, he combed through uranium production records, shipping paperwork, and metallurgical fabrication records that have largely been neglected by others. The ensuing account reads like a gripping drama, although sometimes the overall pace of the story is stymied by long, baroque sentences and a halting prose style. Still, this book marks a turning point in the history of atomic-bomb scholarship, and no future study can credibly ignore its compelling contentions.

A rarity in academic literature—a genuinely original book about a profoundly important topic. 

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63424-117-5
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Trine Day
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2016


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