Must-read books about Lab history

Five favorites from members of the Lab’s National Security Research Center.

By Brye Steeves | December 1, 2020

Five Los Alamos Labs Books Opt
Check out these five books about Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project. Los Alamos National Laboratory

October is National Book Month, and members of the National Security Research Center (the Lab’s classified library) know a thing or two about books. NSRC Director Riz Ali and Senior Historian Alan Carr share their top picks on Los Alamos and atomic bomb history.

“This is the funniest autobiography I have ever read.”
- Riz Ali on "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

By Richard Rhodes

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book begins with early discoveries leading to the science of nuclear fission, through the Manhattan Project, and then the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Carr says: “If you only read one book on the Manhattan Project, make it this one.”

The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer—The Unlikely Partnership That Built the Atom Bomb

By James Kunetka

The story of how two extraordinary, yet opposite in nearly every way, men partnered to create the world’s first nuclear weapons and help end World War II.

Carr says: “This is the first book-length study of the Groves-Oppenheimer partnership, and it’s fascinating. The author, who was a visiting scientist at the Lab years ago, did a nice job.”

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character

By Richard Feynman, et al.

A book of eccentric anecdotes from Feynman, a Manhattan Project physicist and Nobel Laureate, including trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and cracking the uncrackable safes with the most deeply held nuclear secrets.

Ali says: “This is the funniest autobiography I have ever read. A side note: the NSRC has Feynman’s classified Lab notebook. I didn’t understand any of the scientific things he wrote in there, but I noticed that his handwriting was incredibly neat.”

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

By Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin

A Pulitzer Prize-winning biography that examines the life of one of the most iconic scientists of all time and how he led the effort to build the first atomic bomb.

Carr says: “I often refer to this book as, ‘the everything you wanted to know about Oppenheimer and so much more’ biography.”

How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb

By Peter Kuran

A compilation of photos and technical details about the stories and techniques behind atomic bomb photography, including declassified pictures from U.S. atomic weapons tests.

Ali says: “This book offers insight on how early nuclear photographers learned their craft through technical prowess and ingenuity, as well as trial and error. The author is now collaborating with Lab historian Alan Carr on a book about the history of aboveground nuclear testing, which the NSRC will publish next year.”