BEHIND TALL FENCES: Stories and Experiences About Los Alamos at Its Beginning by Los Alamos Historical Society

BEHIND TALL FENCES: Stories and Experiences About Los Alamos at Its Beginning

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This collection of essays, assembled by the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee and written mainly by veterans of the wartime Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, contain a lot of nice nuggets for historians but not much for the general reader. Take, for example, the essay by Robert Serber--a name little known even to the well-educated public but very well known to experts on nuclear history. An early recruit to the project, Serber became one of the most important people in Los Alamos. Among other things, Serber mentions that he had done refined critical mass calculations while living with his wife above Oppenheimer's garage in Berkeley, and nuclear cognoscenti will note that these calculations put the US-based physicists far ahead of where German scientists were when the US bombed Hiroshima. In the rare cases where essays are written by relatively well known individuals, such as Richard Rhodes or Sergei Kapitsa, a Russian physics leader and educator who happens to be the son of the head of the Soviet atomic bomb program, the story is much the same: While there are useful bits to be found, they will be appreciated only by the specialist. The more typical contribution is by a truly obscure author and deals with a truly obscure topic (such as ""Some 1942 Fast-Neutron Measurements at Rice and Minnesota""). This is in essence a vanity publication, and its very title bespeaks a certain absence of self-irony: For that area behind the tall fences was riddled with spies, and when the Soviet Union tested its own bomb in 1949, the device was based on blueprints of the first Los Alamos ""gadget.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 210pp
Publisher: "Exceptional Books (798 47 St., Los Alamos, NM 87544)"