Atomic Quest: A Personal Narrative

Plunkett Lake Press, 9 août 2019

As director of the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago, Arthur Holly Compton was a major participant in the research, production and testing of the first atomic bombs. In this memoir, he tells the story of the bomb’s development from the presentation of the project to President Roosevelt, through its planning, research, and building phases, to its use against Japan. From the perspective of the key position he held during World War II, Compton describes the project as a large-scale group effort leveraging the knowledge and talents of numerous scientists, industrialists and administrators all working as part of their nation’s war effort.

“An absorbing and eminently readable account... packed with new information, enlivened with precious detail and illuminating insights into the minds and personalities of the chief actors in the drama... Mr. Compton tells, and tells well, the story of how, with his unflagging encouragement, the brilliant team under the late Enrico Fermi brought about the first nuclear chain reaction... [an] important book.” — Henry Guerlac, The New York Times Book Review

“This book... is without doubt the most authoritative source available on many aspects of the atomic bomb project... Better than in most histories the real factors underlying one of mankind’s most important developments are set forth in this work... The story is a personal one, which... gives the book a Churchillian authenticity... No historian will ever dare to neglect this volume in writing the history of World War II. It is beautifully written, carefully documented, and thoroughly interesting from cover to cover.” — W.F. Libby, Science

“For those who were in the project, it will mean many recollections. For those who were not, it should give an inkling of the character and capacity of many of the individuals, including Arthur Compton, who made success possible.” — Lieutenant General Leslie R. Groves, U.S. Army (Retired)

“Atomic Quest is an absorbingly interesting story of the people who blazed the trail into the atomic frontier... In a lifetime filled with brilliant accomplishments, Arthur Compton’s four-year leadership in the quest for the atomic bomb was his grandest achievement... It is fortunate indeed that he returned to the fold long enough to set down in Atomic Quest a story that only he could tell.” — Richard L. Doan, American Journal of Physics

“Dr. Compton is a thinking man whose reflections range far beyond the confines of his scientific work: indeed, the distinctive quality of his book lies in his ability to reconcile the atomic bomb and similar operations with his belief as a practicing Christian.” — John Barkham, Saturday Review Syndicate

“It should be required reading for every American, for the free world... The narrative alone makes the book worth reading; its hopeful philosophy makes it mandatory reading.” — Robert S. Kleckner, Chicago Sunday Tribune

“As... director of the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project, Dr. Compton has an important record to add to the annals of the beginning of the Atomic Age, for his was a personal and intimate connection with it.” — Kirkus

“A leading physicist’s personal account of the wartime developments in atomic energy, culminating in the production of the atomic bomb.” — Henry L. Roberts, Foreign Affairs

“Informal, anecdotal, packed with behind-the-scenes incidents and impressions... arrestingly interesting.” — George W. Gray, The Saturday Review

“The most controversial part of the book is that which endeavors to foresee the future of a world faced with the threat of war with nuclear weapons and the inevitable widespread destruction that will accompany their use. Compton is convinced that war has actually thereby become obsolescent.” — Robert Bruce Lindsay, Physics Today

“This book... is written for the layman, in clear, everyday English... it answers the questions that have arisen in the minds of all intelligent people concerning the physical, moral, social and religious implications of the Atomic Age which was so brutally and vividly thrust upon the world in 1945.” — Paul Jordan-Smith, Los Angeles Times


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Table des matières

The Quest Began as a Race to Win a Precious Prize
Can Atomic Bombs Be Made?
The achievement of the first controlled release of atomic power
The Task of the Metallurgical Project
We Will Produce Atomic Weapons on Time
Fast Action at Oak Ridge
Religion War Human Service
Planning for the Atoms

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À propos de l'auteur (2019)

Arthur Holly Compton (1892-1962), a Nobel Prize winning physicist and educator, was born in Wooster, Ohio where his father, Elias Compton, was a Presbyterian minister, professor, and dean at the College of Wooster.

Compton began his higher education at the College of Wooster and completed his PhD in physics at Princeton University in 1916. In 1920, after several university and industry appointments, he became head of the physics department at Washington University in St Louis. His research into the scattering of X-rays by electrons led to the discovery of what is now known as the “Compton Effect” (the wavelength of an X-ray increases, and its energy decreases, after scattering by an electron) for which he won the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physics, the first conclusive experimental evidence that light consists of particles, or photons. From 1923 until 1945, Compton was a Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago where he continued to conduct seminal research on X-rays and cosmic rays.

During World War II (1942-1945), Compton was Director of the Metallurgical Project at the University of Chicago, overseeing the demonstration of the first controlled nuclear chain reaction by Enrico Fermi. This work spearheaded the initiation of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. Compton led teams of physicists, chemists and engineers charged to produce the large quantities of plutonium needed for that project, on which he worked closely with Ernest Lawrence, James B. Conant and J. Robert Oppenheimer.

In 1945, Compton returned to St Louis as Chancellor of Washington University. In 1953 he resigned that position and assumed the role of Professor of the Natural Philosophy at Washington University where he lectured and wrote about science and society. He lived in St Louis with his wife, Betty Charity McCloskey (m. 1916), until his death. He had two sons, Arthur Alan and John Joseph, and four grandchildren.

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