"The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country."
-J. Robert Oppenheimer
I bought a book from a secondhand store to pass the time on my flights to and from Japan. It is enormous, nonfiction, and I expected it to be mostly boring but maybe peppered with interesting facts.
I was very wrong. This book is stunning. Its scope is marvelously large, yet it manages to both explain complex scientific language lucidly and humanize the huge cast of characters all navigating very murky ethical waters as best they can. It is lyrical, philosophical, thrilling, meticulously researched and sometimes just plain terrifying. But it rises above morbid curiosity to ask and offer eloquent answers to the new existential questions that face our institutions and our species. I was reminded repeatedly of The Lord Of The Rings, for its scope and detail (and, to be honest, I liked this book better. But that's just me).
It's called The Making Of The Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes. It won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the National Book Award. It's one of my favourite books ever and I really, really recommend you read it.
Here is an in-depth review of the book from the New York Times.
There's a fatalistic joy to looking through old pictures, especially those we have some connection to. It's an encounter with our mortality. The mundane made sacred by perspective.
A series of posts that surveys some interesting photos from the atomic testing age (and the bombings of Japan). There are some excerpts from survivor testimonies and cool facts. The title of this post is a reference to a book by the same name that is recommended.
"Perhaps I hesitated there for about 20 minutes, but I finally summoned up the courage to take one picture. Then, I moved 4 or 5 meters forward to take the second picture. Even today, I clearly remember how the view finder was clouded over with my tears. I felt that everyone was looking at me and thinking angrily, “He’s taking our picture and will bring us no help at all.” Still, I had to press the shutter, so I harden my heart and finally I took the second shot. Those people must have thought me duly cold-hearted."
"In order to see the true nature of gravity, we have to remove the air."
NASA's crazy awesome vacuum chamber is put to work showing how gravity works when air resistance is removed from the equation. The result it very cool.
An episode of PBS's "Secrets of the Dead" that explores the development of the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, and the context around it. Some unseen footage and interviews with people who watched nuclear tests back in the day.
"The task was doomed from the start; later testimony indicated Kulka had no idea where to find the locking pin in the large and complicated bomb-release mechanism. After a tense 12 minutes searching for the pin, the bombardier decided, correctly, that it must be high up in the bomb bay and invisible because of the curvature of the bomb. A short man, he jumped to pull himself up to get a look at where he thought the locking pin should be. Unfortunately, he evidently chose the emergency bomb-release mechanism for his handhold. The weapon dropped from its shackle and rested momentarily on the closed bomb-bay doors with Captain Kulka splayed across it in the manner of Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. Kulka grabbed at a bag that had providentially been stored in the bomb bay, while the more-than-three-ton bomb broke open the bomb-bay doors and fell earthward. The bag Kulka was holding came loose, and he found himself sliding after the bomb without his parachute. He managed to grab something-he wasn't sure what-and haul himself to safety. Moments later the plane was rocked by the shock wave of the blast when the bomb hit the ground."
Recent studies have indicated that three servings of Jack Hostrawser per day may help to prevent sudden comas.