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Behind Tall Fences: Stories and Experiences About Los Alamos at Its Beginning
Twenty-one Essays by Nineteen Authors

Softbound, 6 x 9, 210 pages. $19.95.
Co-published with Los Alamos Historical Society. (1996)


This collection of essays is doubtless the most authentic book ever assembled about the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, which became Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, now Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is also arguably one of the best of such books.

It comprises a collection of 21 papers by 19 authors, a time frame from 1941 to 1951, within which the atomic bomb was produced in 1945 and work on the hydrogen bomb begun. Most of the authors came to Los Alamos during the years of World War II; these are their stories and recollections.

In charge of the scientific effort was J. Robert Oppenheimer, a man remembered with admiration and affection by all of his scientific comrades, surely the man for the time and place. The commanding officer of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos was Gen. Leslie R. Groves, US Army Engineer Corps. The military and scientists sometimes do not mix well. Somehow Oppenheimer and Groves got along well enough that their joint effort succeeded. Groves's previous assignment was to build the Houston Ship Channel; he was an engineer to be reckoned with, and his contributions in support of the effort at Los Alamos cannot be denigrated.

There were ten members of the scientific cadre who either were or became Nobel laureates. Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi had won their crowns; to be awarded this distinction in later years were Luis Alvarez, Hans Bethe, Owen Chamberlain, Richard Feynman, Val Fitch, Norman Ramsey, Frederick Reines, and Emilio Segrè.

This is a marvelous book about one of the most brilliant technological achievements of all time.

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