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One of the last secrets of World War II is why the Germans failed to build an atomic bomb. Germany was the birthplace of modern physics; it possessed the raw materials and the industrial base; and it commanded key intellectual resources. What happened? In Heisenberg's War, Thomas Powers tells of the interplay between science and espionage, morality and military necessity, and paranoia and cool logic that marked the German bomb program and the Allied response to it. On the basis of dozens of interviews and years of intensive research, Powers concludes that Werner Heisenberg, who was the leading figure in the German atomic effort, consciously obstructed the development of the bomb and in a famous 1941 meeting in Copenhagen with his former mentor Neils Bohr in effect sought to dissuade the Allies from their pursuit of the bomb. Heisenberg's War is a "superbly researched and well-written book" (Time) whose extraordinary story engrosses-and haunts.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780306810114
ISBN-10: 0306810115
Format: Paperback
(229mm x 152mm x 42mm)
Pages: 640
Imprint: Da Capo Press Inc
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
Publish Date: 21-Jul-2000
Country of Publication: United States

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Why did the Third Reich, for all its industrial might and technological resources, fail to create a nuclear bomb? That's the central concern of this masterful, wide-angle reckoning by Powers (Thinking about the Next War, 1982, etc.). At the heart of the panoramic narrative is Werner Heisenberg, whose work on quantum mechanics and the so-called uncertainty principle earned him considerable fame during the 1920's. Along with most other world-class physicists, Heisenberg was fascinated by fission's potential. But unlike many colleagues who had emigrated because of Hitler's institutionalized anti-Semitism, he remained in Germany throughout the war. Love of country partially explained this difficult decision, which also involved a desire to preserve and protect Germany's scientific future. At any rate, Heisenberg - who early on had convinced Albert Speer and the Wehrmacht that A-bombs were a mission impossible - "was free to do what he could to guide the German atomic research effort into a broom closet." Fellow scientists - in particular, those assigned to the Manhattan Project - were generally reluctant to accept Heisenberg's subsequent apologia. Nor at the time did Allied intelligence believe that he was trying to develop reactors rather than bombs. Powers nonetheless determines that the unwillingness of Heisenberg and other German physicists to put a superweapon at the disposal of a military/police state was indeed a root cause of Hitler's failure to become a charter member of the nuclear club. In reaching this arguably persuasive conclusion, the author provides vivid vignettes on Heisenberg's peers - Hans Bethe, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, etc. Covered as well are the counterespionage campaigns mounted by Anglo-American agents (including baseball player Moe Berg), who at one point seriously considered abducting or assassinating Heisenberg. A comprehensive and resonant overview, notable for its compassionate perspectives on the moral dilemmas faced by men of genius caught up in a global conflict. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Thomas Powers

Thomas Powers received the Pulitzer Prize in national reporting in 1971. He is the author of several books, including The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA, and most recently the novel The Confirmation. He lives with his family in Vermont.

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