Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project, 1939-1945

Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project, 1939-1945 : A Study in German Culture

3.8 (20 ratings by Goodreads)
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No one better represents the plight and the conduct of German intellectuals under Hitler than Werner Heisenberg, whose task it was to build an atomic bomb for Nazi Germany. The controversy surrounding Heisenberg still rages, because of the nature of his work and the regime for which it was undertaken. What precisely did Heisenberg know about the physics of the atomic bomb? How deep was his loyalty to the German government during the Third Reich? Assuming that he had been able to build a bomb, would he have been willing? These questions, the moral and the scientific, are answered by Paul Lawrence Rose with greater accuracy and breadth of documentation than any other historian has yet achieved. Digging deep into the archival record among formerly secret technical reports, Rose establishes that Heisenberg never overcame certain misconceptions about nuclear fission, and as a result the German leaders never pushed for atomic weapons. In fact, Heisenberg never had to face the moral problem of whether he should design a bomb for the Nazi regime. Only when he and his colleagues were interned in England and heard about Hiroshima did Heisenberg realize that his calculations were wrong.
He began at once to construct an image of himself as a 'pure' scientist who could have built a bomb but chose to work on reactor design instead. This was fiction, as Rose demonstrates: in reality, Heisenberg blindly supported and justified the cause of German victory. The question of why he did, and why he misrepresented himself afterwards, is answered through Rose's subtle analysis of German mentality and the scientists' problems of delusion and self-delusion. This fascinating study is a profound effort to understand one of the twentieth century's great enigmas.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 391 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 23mm | 499g
  • Berkerley, United States
  • English
  • 1 table
  • 0520229266
  • 9780520229266
  • 1,414,517

Review quote

"During the Second World War, the nightmare of a Nazi atomic bomb project under the leadership of Werner Heisenberg played a significant role in propelling the world into the nuclear age. After the war, German scientists including Heisenberg took credit for diverting the regime from pursuing a bomb, for moral as well as practical reasons. In this important and absorbing book, Paul Lawrence Rose meticulously documents a radically different view of what happened in Germany during the war. Rose has made an indispensable contribution to the literature of this important episode."--David Goodstein, California Institute of Technology
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About Paul Lawrence Rose

Paul Lawrence Rose is Mitrani Professor of Jewish Studies and European History at Pennsylvania State University. His recent books include Wagner: Race and Revolution (1992) and German Question/Jewish Question (1990).
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