The book does a great job of explaining the entire history of nuclear physics, starting back more than a century ago; it takes a rather substantial amount of reading before one even gets to discussion about nuclear weapons. Along those lines, I should warn you now, this book is a massive one, weighing in at 928 pages. To make things more interesting, it’s also not standard novel proportions, so there is a lot of text to get through.
That said, as much as I like reading textbooks, this book from Mr. Rhodes is more readable than you would expect. While it does cover a number of specific scientific concepts, it does so in a very straightforward manner, and interleaves everything with the human stories and experiences of the time. The book is filled with thousands of direct quotations, anecdotes, and personal stories. I, for one, hate reading about history, yet found the entire thing enthralling, even if it did take me half a year to get around to reading the whole of it.
In reading through the pages, I have learned a great deal about the military history of our nation for the last century, nuclear politics, and the individuals involved at every level of the innovations and politics leading up to the cold war. That was pretty neat, honestly.
The only real weak point, to my feeling, is that in the last few pages Rhodes attempts to become philosophical about the whole of it, and tie everything together in a neat little bow, abandoning what up till then is an infrequently interrupted objectivity. Further, most of the conclusions/assertions Rhodes proposes are common sense if somebody had actually read through his marvelous preceding pages. I think one can safely stop reading after reading about the first successful Teller-Ulam test, and pick up with another text that better covers the history of the cold war, filling in the gaps by allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions.
Just go out and buy/borrow it and read it, it’s worth it. 9/10.