A tremendously useful soup-to-nuts study of how Britain and the U.S. embraced a frightening atomic age.



A scholarly filling-in of the chronological record shows how Churchill dropped the ball on nuclear weapons leadership in World War II.

Farmelo (The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, 2009) constructs a nicely detailed and balanced record of the British ambivalence toward building an atom bomb in favor of the American effort, since Churchill’s infatuation with H.G. Wells and early acquaintance with scientist Frederick Lindemann in 1921. The author tracks the working friendship between Churchill and Lindemann, the Oxford professor who directed the Clarendon Laboratory (as counterpoint to Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, run by Ernest Rutherford, “the Christopher Columbus of the atomic nucleus”) and largely helped cultivate Churchill’s education in quantum theory, however faulty. While the 1930s-era Cambridge physics department had been instrumental in discovering the neutron and in artificially splitting atomic nuclei, Lindemann also helped entice many refugee scientists from Nazi Germany—e.g., Hungarian Leó Szilárd, who developed the harnessing of nuclear energy, among others. As adviser to Churchill, Lindemann helped guide Churchill’s theories of creating a weapon of mass destruction to counter what he saw early on as a terrifying Nazi menace. Although many refugee scientists were developing feasible theories about the making of an actual bomb, Churchill got distracted with waging the Battle of Britain, and Lindemann’s ideas were often questioned by his scientific colleagues. Meanwhile, other refugees, such as Neils Bohr and Enrico Fermi, discoverers of nuclear fission, had migrated to American universities and were working hard on a weapon. Merging the two efforts would prove prickly and problematic, as delineated step by step by the author.

A tremendously useful soup-to-nuts study of how Britain and the U.S. embraced a frightening atomic age.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-465-02195-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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