Spanning fifty years, Before the Fall-Out tells the full story of how an exhilarating quest to unravel the secrets of the material world produced the knowledge of how to destroy it.And of how a scientific adventure shared openly between nuclear physicists from many different nations transmuted into a secretive wartime race for the ultimate weapon of mass destruction - the atom bomb.
As much as on the science, Before the Fall-Out focuses on the 'human chain reaction' - the intertwined lives of the many scientists of many nations whose compulsive curiosity led, however unwittingly, ultimately to Hiroshima. In her page-turning account Diana Preston reveals how individuals responded to events - from Allied scientists debating the morality of deploying the bomb, to Japanese civilians who became its first victims, and to a German chemist working on the Nazi bomb project while concealing a Jewish pianist in his Berlin apartment. Diana Preston draws on fresh material including interviews with the last living scientist to have worked with Marie Curie, the only senior scientist to have walked out on the Manhattan Project on moral grounds, and the German scientist who accompanied Werner Heisenberg on his controversial wartime visit to Niels Bohr in Copenhagen.
A Manhattan Project scientist said that the only secret of the bomb was that it could be made: once this was known, any nation could replicate it. Before the Fall-Out helps us make better sense of our own, dangerous world and of the threats and moral dilemmas that face our society today.
"Studded with...moments of drama ... Preston's handling of her research is impeccable. But this is far from being a merely scientific history ... The effect is to demonstrate the terrible convergence of events, Hiroshima and physics drifting into the last, super-heated embrace. Furthermore, Preston is on top of the politics ... She lays it out before the reader with absolute clarity ... For Preston, it is the individual act that counts: the apparent impersonal progress of her story is an illusion. Plutonium doesn't exist in nature. We made it. We chose to make it. Read Preston. This is a formidable book."
"In this wonderful book Diana Preston sustains the suspense over 400 pages of text. Although we all know who won, Preston tells the story so well that some of the chapters read like extracts from a thriller ... Preston introduces both the physics and the physicists in a logical fashion that grips the reader - however ignorant of science - from the outset ... She also weaves in the parallel military and political stories beautifully ... Diana Preston is not a scientist. She is, in the best sense of the term, a popular historian. But she makes two comments about science that touch on the profound."
"The great, enthralling story of the race to build the bomb is often as complicated and full of twists as nuclear physics itself, but Diana Preston has told it clearly and vividly. A valuable book."
"Fast-paced and galvanizing narrative . . . avidly researched and gracefully condtructed, Preston's revelatory history is rich in telling moments, powerful personalities, intense controntations, and indelible images of the devastation delivered by nuclear weapons."
"What Preston does better than any other writer is to capture the human aspects of the frankly exciting race to create a nuclear weapon . . . This energetic book is a fine place to begin."