And it all started in California, with Ernest Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron, a peerlessly efficient and effective atom smasher, and his partnership with another young, ambitious physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Before Lawrence’s arrival on the woodsy campus in 1928, followed by Oppenheimer a year later, no student could lay claim to a complete education in physics without having done a turn at one of Europe’s great centers of theory and research. In Göttingen, Copenhagen, or Cambridge they would sit at the feet of Max Planck, Niels Bohr, or Ernest Rutherford, absorb these masters’ knowledge, and carry it home. Soon enough, it would be to Berkeley that students would make their pilgrimages, coming from all corners of the world to learn how to smash atoms and unlock their secrets with the help of a marvelous new machine Lawrence had invented, backed up by Oppenheimer’s theoretical explanations. The old masters themselves would come, too.
I would not have thought there was much point to reading, nevermind writing, another book on the American nuclear program after Richard Rhodes epic two part history : The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun. But Michael Hitzlik's enormously readable account strikes on a new angle as he focuses on not just one participant, Ernest Lawrence, bit one important aspect of the project, Lawrence's almost single-handed development of the "big science" model of research. Where science before the 1920's had largely been conducted by lone researchers in tiny personal labs--like the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge--Lawrence, in his pursuit of ever larger cyclotrons, pioneered the use of grant money, larger teams and government co-operation. One benefit of his work was that when it came time for the Manhattan Project, there was a pre-existing model for such an enormous collaborative project.
Admittedly, that much of the story may not sound exactly thrilling, but the author makes his tale move along briskly by relating the excitement surrounding the successive new discoveries that Lawrence's cyclotrons made technically possible, and the setbacks that often occurred because he was in too much haste to nail down the science. The tension between experimenters and theorists permeates the book. There are also plenty of personality conflicts to add spice, particularly once communists replace Nazis as the enemy that Big Science is working to defeat.
Besides all these elements, Mr. Hitzlik also manages to make the physics reasonably easy to understand--no small achievement.
All in all it's an exemplar of what science writing can be at its very best.
-AUTHOR SITE: MichaelHiltlik.com
-BOOK SITE: Big Science (Simon & Schuster)
-WIKIPEDIA : Michael Hiltzik
-AUTHOR PAGE: Michael Hiltzik (LA Times)
-ESSAY: The Origins of Big Science (Michael Hiltzik, Fall 2015, Boom)
-ESSAY: Splitting the Atomic Scientists: How the question of building the hydrogen bomb split the Manhattan Project scientific consensus. (Michael Hiltzik, Aug. 7, 2015, US News)
-LECTURE: Video Available of Michael Hiltzik Talk on His ‘Big Science’ Book (Today at Berkley Lab, November 3, 2015)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Michael Hiltzik - The Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex (Inquiring Minds)
-VIDEO: Book Discussion on Big Science (Michael Hiltzik, August 7, 2015, C-SPAN)
-VIDEO INTERVIEW: Michael Hiltzik - Big Science : The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist explores the life of Ernest Lawrence and the cyclotron. (Barry Kibrick, October 25, 2015, IPTV World)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Big Science with Michael Hiltzik (The Milt Rosenberg ShowEp. 125, August 4, 2015, The Ricochet Audio Network)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: The Atomic Bomb Kicked Off America's Military-Industrial Complex (Emma Morgenstern, August 6, 2015, Modern Notion Podcast)
-ARTICLE: I Spy Your IP (Michael Weiss, 4/21/06, Slate)
-ARTICLE: Los Angeles Times Yanks Columnist's Blog (Howard Kurtz, April 21, 2006, Washington Post)
-REVIEW: of BIG SCIENCE : Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex By Michael Hiltzik (Robert P. Crease, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Jonathon Keats, LA Times)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Jules Wagman, The Plain Dealer)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Kirkus Reviews)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Gregg Herken, Washington Post)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Publishers Weekly)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Sam Kean, American Scholar)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (John Dupuis, Confessions of a Science Librarian)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (World War II Today)
-REVIEW: of (Gary Bishop, Washington Independent Review of Books)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Graham Farmelo, WSJ)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Mal Warwick’s Blog on Books)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Michelle Nijhuis, VQR)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (Allan Hauer, Innovation)
-REVIEW: of Big Science (The Jolly Historian)
-REVIEW: of DEALERS OF LIGHTNING : Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. By Michael Hiltzik. (David Pogue, NY Times Book Review)
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