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March 27, 2011

Sunday Book Thread

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, I found myself dredging deep into my memory to recall physics and chemistry classes I took back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. In order to refresh my memory, I dug out a book I've had for a long time: Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb. The first third of that book is both a history of nuclear physics and a pocket introduction to nuclear physics itself. (I've also got the companion volume about the development of the H-Bomb, Dark Sun.)

One thing that Rhodes' book reminded me is of what a strange and complex man Robert Oppenheimer was. A man whose wife, brother, and friends had at one time or another belonged to the Communist Party; a man of refined, even exquisite intellectual capacity; a nervous, harried, thin man who always seem to be on the verge of fissioning himself. The story of how the no-nonsense juggernaut Gen. Leslie Groves picked him to head up the Los Alamos lab is a fascinating story in and of itself.

I cannot recommend Rhodes' book highly enough. It is written to the level of the intelligent general reader, and the book is as much a history and biography of the leading figures of the age -- Einstein, Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Oppenheimer -- as it is of the Manhattan Project itself. I've long believed that many aeons from now, if the United States is remembered for anything, it will be for two things: the development of the atomic bomb; and the landing of men on the Moon. So it seems advisable to have a knowledge of the history of this awesome technology.

Apart from that, I also picked up the Amazon Kindle edition of Thomas Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies: Second Edition. This book should be required reading for every citizen in the United States, as a good understanding of this book would prevent a good deal of economic stupidity and misery later on. This book is kind of a gateway-drug to Sowell's other books, especially his more generalized Basic Economics book.

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posted by Monty at 09:39 AM

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