SHOCKWAVE by Stephen Walker
Kirkus Star


Countdown to Hiroshima
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A superb account of the development of the bomb that destroyed a Japanese city with the heat of ten suns.

BBC film director Walker writes with a sense of urgency and high drama as he recounts the years-long effort to build an atomic bomb secretly, an effort doomed from the start thanks to the presence of Klaus Fuchs, Stalin’s man inside Los Alamos. What Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe and company concocted at the cost of ulcers, alcoholism, broken marriages and other stresses has, of course, been the subject of many books before. Few writers, though, have taken the time to notice that the prototype bomb resembled “a giant gobstopper” and was made up in part of Scotch tape and Johnson’s baby powder, or observed that the bomber Enola Gay was named after its commander’s mother, or pointed out that Leslie Groves, the secretive boss of the Manhattan Project, was also the man who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon, a luminous detail that speaks volumes. Walker depicts a Japanese leadership torn in the last days of the war by a division between those determined to fight to the last child and a peace faction that made overtures to the Soviet Union to convince America to drop its demand for unconditional surrender; the USSR, not yet at war with Japan, did not bother to reply, Walker notes, for there was no gain to be had in doing a favor for the beaten nation. At the same time, some scientists who had been working on the bomb, notably Enrico Fermi, feared that the entire world would be destroyed if the thing were ever set off. It was, at first, as Walker notes, against a city that, though a legitimate military target, appears to have been chosen for destruction for reasons of psychological effect: “Hiroshima’s pristine condition,” writes Walker, “virtually guaranteed the weapon’s initial use would be spectacular.”

So it was, and the world has been haunted ever since. An engrossing, saddening reconstruction of events, marking the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima’s incineration.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-074284-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2005