Life Under a Cloud: American Anxiety About the Atom
By April 1952, New York City had issued two and a half million metal dogtags to all public, private, and parochial school children; the primary reason: to help identify the dead after a sneak nuclear attack. It was just another part of making Americans feel safer while living at ground zero.
In Life Under a Cloud, Allan Winkler presents a fascinating history of the irony, anxiety, and official insanity of the atomic age. He begins with the prewar search for fission, showing how the advent of war snowballed independent scientific investigation into the mammoth Manhattan Project. The first atomic bomb test was a revelation to the scientists (J. Robert Oppenheimer was moved to quote Hindu scripture: "Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds"); but the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sparked an atomic craze, as bars served drinks like the "Atomic Cocktail," and Life magazine dubbed a model Miss Anatomic Bomb. Winkler deftly unfolds the debate over the bomb that raged among scientists and intellectuals, even as the Cold War impelled the military to demand more and bigger bombs--culminating in the "Super," as the hydrogen bomb was nicknamed. He weaves together military strategy (as the nuclear arms establishment took on immense proportions), policymaking in the White House, and the effects of the nuclear arms race on the public. The atomic age was a gold mine for science fiction and comic books, while scientists expressed their concern in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and other publications. The hydrogen bomb tests of the 1950s brought the problem of fallout into the popular eye, creating pressure for a nuclear test ban as well as a craze for bomb shelters and civil defense. Winkler also traces the rise and fall of the civilian uses of atomic power, from Hyman Rickover's first pilot reactor to the crisis brought on by Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. He shows how the momentum of the arms race faltered in the 1970s, with the first nuclear arms limitation treaties, and follows the story up through the 1980s, as nuclear anxieties climaxed in the freeze movement and plans for the Star Wars missile defense system. Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, he writes, public and scientific protests had begun to slow the Star Wars steamroller, marking a break with the nearly unstoppable arms-building inertia of the Cold War.
Ranging across popular culture, scientific thought, military strategy, and political history, Life Under a Cloud provides a comprehensive account of America's turbulent relationship with the atom. From the Manhattan Project through the Bush administration, it captures the gravity--and insanity--of a period that continues to haunt the post-Cold War era.
Specifications of Life Under a Cloud: American Anxiety About the Atom
|Author||Allan M. Winkler|
|Publisher||Oxford University Press|
|Number Of Pages||288|
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