In history that reads like a great thriller, award-winning former Washington Post reporter Kurzman (Left to Die: The Tragedy of the USS Juneau, 1994, etc.) tells the story of the Allied effort to derail the Nazi quest to develop a nuclear bomb. In the war's early stages, Kurzman relates, Nazi Germany's atomic research program, which included many of the world's greatest physicists, was more advanced than those of the Allies. However, the German effort was crippled by a dependence on heavy water to facilitate a chain reaction. For a long time Norsk Hydro in Norway, a factory seized by the Germans, was the only producer of heavy water in the Third Reich. At the urging of General Leslie Groves, the military leader of the Manhattan Project, the plant quickly became the target of British commando raids and American bombing attacks. Several of the commando raids failed, and Kurzman's account brings out the heroism of the English and Norwegian raiders who fell victim to Hitler's standing order to execute all captured commandos. In a night attack in February 1943, Norwegian raiders in British uniforms finally succeeded in penetrating the plant and setting off a destructive explosion within the factory. However, because of the danger that the Germans would simply rebuild the productive portions of the plant, American bombers attacked in November 1943 and severely damaged the factory, killing 28 Norwegian civilians. This still did not finish the threat posed by the heavy-water program at Norsk Hydro, however: When the Nazis attempted to move heavy-water stocks from Norway, saboteurs destroyed a ferry bearing the cargo, killing 26 civilians in the process. Kurzman quotes OSS official (and later CIA chief) William Casey as estimating that at war's end the Germans were 700 liters of heavy water short of developing an effective nuclear reaction. Spellbinding and deeply sobering military history.