Former University of Texas vice president Kunetka (Shadow Man, 1988, etc.) follows the long road to the atom bomb.
In this nearly 500-page book, the author has plenty of room to explore both the planning and building of the atom bomb. He begins with short biographical sketches of his two primary subjects, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) and Gen. Leslie Richard Groves (1896-1970) of the Army Corps of Engineers, who, in addition to heading the Manhattan project operation, also oversaw the building of the Pentagon. Although billed as the history of “the unlikely partnership that built the atom bomb,” that story is sometimes buried beneath the large cast of secondary characters. However, the narrative is often a fascinating look at one of the pivotal moments in both military and human history, and Kunetka deftly weaves together science, politics, and personal color to bring to life the extraordinary circumstances facing his subjects. The author also communicates both the urgency and the unpredictability of the entire operation. When Kunetka focuses on the interaction between Oppenheimer and Groves, he clearly illustrates their unique dynamic and the impressive productivity of their working relationship. However, given the sheer volume of information, those instances are few and far between. More often, Oppenheimer and Groves are footnotes to each other’s stories, while other men and women become the focus of each section. The book works best as an overview of the Los Alamos operation and the Manhattan project rather than an examination of Oppenheimer and Groves.
An accessible and expansive look at the development of the atom bomb, but those looking for a deeper understanding of Oppenheimer and Groves should look elsewhere—either Ray Monk’s Robert Oppenheimer (2013) or Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s American Prometheus (2005).