"STALIN AND THE BOMB: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956" by David Holloway

"STALIN AND THE BOMB: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956"

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A measured account of the development of the Soviet bomb program by Holloway (Political Science/Stanford, The Soviet Union and the Arms Race, 1983) that contrives to be both technically comprehensive and gripping. Using interviews with some of the main protagonists, such as Kapitsa and Sakharov (though before they were able to talk fully), and access to those archives that have become available in Russia, Holloway clarifies a number of issues. He confirms that the Soviets were heavily dependent on espionage to provide both a sense of the seriousness with which the British (and later the Americans) were pursuing nuclear weapons, and guidelines to their methods. Still, the success of the Soviet Union in constructing such a weapon, in almost the same amount of time as the US, was a ""remarkable feat,"" given the devastation of the Soviet economy after the war. The Communist command-administrative system, Holloway notes, ""showed itself able to mobilize resources on a massive scale, and to channel them into a top priority project."" It was, however, at immense cost both in terms of the hundreds of thousands of prisoners toiling in the uranium mines and elsewhere, the appalling health and safety record, and the damage to the environment. The building of the hydrogen bomb, by contrast, was largely and no less remarkably an indigenous Soviet achievement. Little credit seems due to Stalin, who was responsible for shooting many of the top physicists during the purges and who understood the significance of nuclear weapons only after the explosion at Alamogordo. Nor does Holloway think much of Stalin's postwar policies, which succeeded in unifying the West and causing it to rearm, though he concludes that Stalin's refusal to be browbeaten made the US more cautious about asserting its nuclear monopoly. What could have been a dry technical and analytical study is enlivened by the immensity of the issues at stake and the extraordinary characters populating the story.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1994
ISBN: 0300066643
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.