The Bomb: A Life

by Gerard DeGroot

Reviewed May 11, 2005

Book CoverThe development of nuclear weapons has dramatically shaped the course of world affairs for over 60 years. Since August 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, killing hundreds of thousands, its power has haunted our psyche and threatened our survival as a species on this planet. The Bomb's legacy continues to exert its influence around the globe. Headlines remind us of the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula or that terrorists could attack using clandestinely-obtained nuclear material.

Gerard DeGroot, Professor of Modern History at St. Andrews University, has written a concise and enjoyable account of the history of the nuclear bomb, The Bomb: A Life. He chronicles its birth in the turn-of-the-century physics laboratories of Europe, to its first test in the desert of New Mexico, to the ensuing nuclear race and its proliferation across the globe. Although the book does not offer any new information to a knowledgeable reader, it does offer a succinct telling of the Bomb's legacy. This fact will be welcomed by those wishing to teach the topic of development of nuclear weapons. For those seeking a detailed account of the development of the atomic bomb and its later incarnation, the hydrogen bomb, they should review Richard Rhodes' seminal works, The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun.

DeGroot's book portrays the Bomb's short but significant existence in all its scope, providing us with a portrait of the times and the people--from Oppenheimer to Sakharov, Stalin to Reagan--whose legacy still shapes our world. As the 60th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approach, this book reminds us just how massively destructive those devices can be.

DeGroot also explores the attempts at rationalizing the Bomb's continued development and its use by the world's leaders and weapons designers. In short, DeGroot has written one of the better summaries of the nuclear age. Available at