Churchill's bomb

Graham Farmelo

Why I looked at this book

We're used to the idea that political leaders make decisions on important issues without knowing all of the details. In particular on scientific issues they need to get advice from experts in the field. But it seems that Winston Churchill had a greater knowledge of atomic physics than one might expect. Its will be interesting to find out how much this fed into his decision making. Another thing that interests me is the switch from quantum philosophising of physicists to the idea that they should be employed in the military-industrial complex. I'll be looking to see how much this policy was influenced from the top.

First impressions

After a prologue discussing at Churchill's views on the H-bomb, Chapter 1 looks at Churchill's early life, and in particular his friendship with H G Wells. One realises that these men, growing up at the end of the 19th Century, must have seen science and technology playing ever more important roles in people's lives. There had been the shock of Darwin's ideas, new inventions were appearing all the time, and now there was weird new physics on the horizon. In particular new methods of warfare were becoming available, as Well's wrote about in The War in the Air. Churchill was quick to see the importance of this in the nation's military policy. Chapter 2 explains how Churchill acquired Frederick Lindemann (The Prof.) as his long term scientific advisor, and how, based on Well's work he foresaw the possibility of weapons such as the atomic bomb. It will be interesting to see in the rest of the book how this prediction progressed as such weapons became reality.
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