[This review originally appeared on www.goodreads.com]
Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Like Richard Rhodes' previous work, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the title Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb doesn't begin to describe the shear amount of information in the book. The greatest difference between Dark Sun and Atomic Bomb is that this book spends much of its time on political maneuverings, Soviet espionage, and the Soviet effort to build an atomic bomb.
While the basic operational principles of thermonuclear weapons are covered, there is not as much detail as was found in The Making of the Atomic Bomb; the physics of hydrogen bombs are more complex and are still surrounded by a significant amount of secrecy. Rhodes eventually gets to the Ivy Mike test (the first test of a hydrogen bomb) but first revisits the Manhattan Project. That World War II program saw the origin of the theories behind thermonuclear weapons and was the subject of a significant Soviet espionage effort that allowed Russian scientists to develop an atomic bomb years ahead of schedule.
It's possible that Soviet spies and scientists get the most attention in Dark Sun. This is apparently because the development and detonation of the Soviet A-bomb, Joe I, created the nuclear arms race. It was in response to the successful Russian test that President Truman officially began the crash program to develop the H-bomb. Like Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun spends a significant amount of time with the scientists and politicians who made the bomb possible. In fact, their personalities and opposing ideologies (the conflict between J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller in particular) take up a larger percentage of Dark Sun than they did in the previous book.
Although an excellent book, Rhodes' extensive coverage of Soviet espionage, the Russian atomic bomb program, and nuclear politics seems somewhat tangential to the actual making of the hydrogen bomb. While I understand the importance of these things to the history of thermonuclear weapons, I had hoped for a more focused narrative like that of The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
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