The Atomic Bazaar

Jonathan Raban reviews The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor by William Langewiesche, in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_03_may_20_0438One need read only the first three pages of “The Atomic Bazaar” to be reminded of William Langewiesche’s formidable talent as a journalist whose cool, precise and economical reporting is harnessed to an invigorating moral and intellectual perspective on the world he describes. In a single paragraph, he lucidly explains the basic physics of the uranium-based atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Once a professional pilot, and the author of “Inside the Sky,” Langewiesche then leads the reader inside the “pressurized, well-heated” cockpit of the Enola Gay, flying at 31,000 feet in “smooth air,” piloted by the young Colonel Paul Tibbets, and vividly reconstructs the evasive maneuver taken by the B-29 as it banks steeply to minimize the coming shockwaves, while the bomb, named Little Boy, falls for 43 seconds before igniting several miles below, lighting the sky with “the prettiest blues and pinks that Tibbets had ever seen.” Tibbets’s subsequent career, from Air Force general to Internet purveyor of autographed souvenirs of that momentous flight, is adroitly sketched. The bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima, with a plutonium device, is handled in brisk but sufficient detail. Langewiesche counts the total killed in the two attacks (around 220,000), then delivers his own one-sentence bomb: “The intent was to terrorize a nation to the maximum extent, and there is nothing like nuking civilians to achieve that effect.”

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