PD Smith

Church Times review

06 December 2007 | atomic bomb, Bryson, Doomsday Men, Eco, London, Penguin, Rutherford, scientists, Szilard, Wells | Post a comment

Next week Doomsday Men is released in the United States, but it is still being reviewed here in the UK, six months after it was published. I've just seen a review which appeared in the Church Times on 23 November by the Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden, who is a chaplain and lecturer at the University of Sussex.  I'm glad to say he enjoyed the book! Unfortunately the review is not available online (unless you are a subscriber) but here are some excerpts:

"Nuclear weapons, alchemy, aspirations of the scientific ethical good becoming 'nightmares' of total destruction, scientific prophecies - this is the story of the nuclear bomb. The narrative is gripping and morally astute. [...] The science is told with a Bill Brysonish kind of panache. But, at times, it becomes a cross between Bryson and Umberto Eco. There is a sub-narrative of esoteric knowledge and mysterious, astonishingly accurate predictions from HG Wells. Learned, accessible, and drawing occasionally on the stylistic skills of the novelist, this makes for a very good read."

Ashenden clearly enjoyed the anecdotes about Leo Szilard, one of the founding fathers of the atomic age and a central figure in the book:

"The narrative contains wonderful details. Leo Szilard spent his mornings 'thinking' in the public bath of the Strand Palace Hotel. At noon he would be ejected by the maid. There, he conceived of the relationship between uranium and the requisite nuclear chain reaction. When he took his discovery to Ernest Rutherford in 1934, he was thrown out of his office. Szilard was enormously grateful retrospectively. Had his discovery entered the public scientific domain earlier than it did, Hitler would have got his hands on the bomb some time before 1945."

The Strand Palace Hotel is in fact just across the road from the offices of my UK publisher, Penguin. Now there's a coincidence for you!

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