Big bang

One of my (many) bad habits, is that I tend to have more than one book on the go at the same time. (In my defense, one reason is that I won’t use the Kindle over Shabbat, so need a separate supply of old fashioned books for that time of the week.)

One of my current books is Gerhard L Weinberg‘s highly rated A World at Arms – A Global History of World War II. And from that, I offer the following quote as a terrific example of the Law of Unintended Consequences:

“The British concerns about possible development of atomic weapons had been calmed in the first months of World War II because of scientific advice that many more years of research would be needed before any such weapons became practical. In one of those developments that no one would believe if included in a work of fiction, two scientists who were refugees from Nazi Germany, and who as enemy aliens could not obtain security clearances and hence were only allowed to work on such unimportant matters as atomic physics, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, in April 1940 worked out how a U-235 bomb could be made out of a tiny fraction of the quantity originally believed necessary. This moved atomic weapons from a far distant future to a prospect a few years off.”

I was aware that Nazi Anti-Semitism had been responsible for scaring away many brilliant scientists who became key members of the USA’s team in the Manhattan Project. Frisch and Peierls made their contribution because the British saw them as enemy aliens and wouldn’t allow them to work on the really secret stuff – like radar! Almost unbelievable.

Incidentally, the book is chock full of nuggets like the one quoted above, and seems to be living up to its reputation as probably the finest single volume history of that terrible conflict.