The little-known links in the chain to the bomb

Elizabeth Svoboda reviews Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima by Diana Preston, in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The deliberations of the Manhattan Project’s kingpins at Los Alamos, N.M., have been hashed out ad infinitum in classic works such as Richard Rhodes’ “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” Preston’s book escapes comparison with such literary behemoths by focusing on the key roles of lesser-known personalities. She proposes that for every Oppenheimer, Einstein and Teller — larger-than- life caricatures in the cultural lexicon — there is a bit player, equally integral to the drama, whose story remains largely unknown.

Among Preston’s cast of atomic Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns, German physicist Werner Heisenberg is most deftly portrayed. Though eager for Germany to win World War II so the Allies would not treat it “the way the Romans had treated Carthage,” Heisenberg never belonged to the Nazi party. Preston raises the intriguing possibility that he and others assigned to the German nuclear weapons project “had misgivings about producing a bomb, which may have unconsciously inhibited their work.”

More here.