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Terrifying Peacekeeper

March 2023
1min read

Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb

by Richard Rhodes, Simon & Schuster, 731 pages.

Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb combined explication of nuclear physics with sinuous narrative to show the evolution of the Manhattan Project; Dark Sun tells the story of the much more powerful bomb that came later, and follows the growth of the nuclear rivalry on both sides. A recurring figure in Rhodes’s account is Curtis LeMay, who supervised the 1944 Tokyo firebombings and the first atomic tests, watched the hydrogen bomb destroy Bikini Atoll, and recommended pre-emptive strikes on the Soviet Union as head of the Strategic Air Command during the Cuban missile crisis. Rhodes’s history makes much of the recent debate over the Hiroshima bombing seem beside the point: After the more destructive firebombing of Tokyo, he believes, it took Truman five untroubled minutes to decide to use the new weapon.

Dark Sun adds to the weight of evidence that the Rosenbergs were spies and breaks more ground about the alarming extent of Soviet atomic espionage, which one Soviet cipher clerk rightly called “mass production.” In addition to fleshing out the Soviet side, Rhodes’s book reveals the truth beneath the nuclear bluff: In 1947 America had no atom bombs ready, and the Soviet Union would remain woefully unprepared until 1960. But the terror helped keep the peace throughout, as this book expertly shows.

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