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  • Published: 28 February 2011
  • ISBN: 9781446423493
  • Imprint: Transworld Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 608

Before the Fall-Out

From Marie Curie To Hiroshima

A history of the human chain reaction that led to Atomic Bomb.

Spanning fifty years, Before the Fall-Out tells the full story of how an exhilarating quest to unravel the secrets of the material world produced the knowledge of how to destroy it.And of how a scientific adventure shared openly between nuclear physicists from many different nations transmuted into a secretive wartime race for the ultimate weapon of mass destruction - the atom bomb.

As much as on the science, Before the Fall-Out focuses on the 'human chain reaction' - the intertwined lives of the many scientists of many nations whose compulsive curiosity led, however unwittingly, ultimately to Hiroshima. In her page-turning account Diana Preston reveals how individuals responded to events - from Allied scientists debating the morality of deploying the bomb, to Japanese civilians who became its first victims, and to a German chemist working on the Nazi bomb project while concealing a Jewish pianist in his Berlin apartment. Diana Preston draws on fresh material including interviews with the last living scientist to have worked with Marie Curie, the only senior scientist to have walked out on the Manhattan Project on moral grounds, and the German scientist who accompanied Werner Heisenberg on his controversial wartime visit to Niels Bohr in Copenhagen.

A Manhattan Project scientist said that the only secret of the bomb was that it could be made: once this was known, any nation could replicate it. Before the Fall-Out helps us make better sense of our own, dangerous world and of the threats and moral dilemmas that face our society today.

  • Published: 28 February 2011
  • ISBN: 9781446423493
  • Imprint: Transworld Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 608

About the author

Diana Preston

Diana Preston is an Oxford-trained historian, writer, and broadcaster who lives in London. Her most recent books are Wilful Murder: The Sinking of the Lusitania (now a major BBC1 film), A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, Before the Fall-Out (chosen for the Samuel Johnson Prize longlist), A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time and Cleopatra and Antony.

Also by Diana Preston

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Praise for Before the Fall-Out

The great, enthralling story of the race to build the bomb is often as complicated and full of twists as nuclear physics itself, but Diana Preston has told it clearly and vividly. A valuable book.

Joseph Kanon, author of LOS ALAMOS

Fast-paced and galvanizing narrative . . . avidly researched and gracefully condtructed, Preston's revelatory history is rich in telling moments, powerful personalities, intense controntations, and indelible images of the devastation delivered by nuclear weapons.


What Preston does better than any other writer is to capture the human aspects of the frankly exciting race to create a nuclear weapon . . . This energetic book is a fine place to begin.

Chicago Sun-Times

Her skill is in weaving ethical struggles, scientific innovations and the grim dance of international relations into a riveting, coherent narrative.


Historian Diana Preston has done a truly stupendous job in marshalling the facts and threading together the myriad storylines about the birth of the atomic age, from Marie Curie's discovery of radium to Nagasaki and beyond ... I particularly admire her ability to synthesise abstruse technical detail...in a way that makes it easy to understand. She has taken all this potentially arid science and given it a human force ... A complex, monumental tale I doubt will ever be better told.

Mail on Sunday

In this wonderful book Diana Preston sustains the suspense over 400 pages of text. Although we all know who won, Preston tells the story so well that some of the chapters read like extracts from a thriller ... Preston introduces both the physics and the physicists in a logical fashion that grips the reader - however ignorant of science - from the outset ... She also weaves in the parallel military and political stories beautifully ... Diana Preston is not a scientist. She is, in the best sense of the term, a popular historian. But she makes two comments about science that touch on the profound.

Sunday Telegraph

Studded with...moments of drama ... Preston's handling of her research is impeccable. But this is far from being a merely scientific history ... The effect is to demonstrate the terrible convergence of events, Hiroshima and physics drifting into the last, super-heated embrace. Furthermore, Preston is on top of the politics ... She lays it out before the reader with absolute clarity ... For Preston, it is the individual act that counts: the apparent impersonal progress of her story is an illusion. Plutonium doesn't exist in nature. We made it. We chose to make it. Read Preston. This is a formidable book.

Sunday Times

Compelling...Told with great skill by Diana Preston. There are personalities and discoveries, enterprises and adventures, colour and detail, and naturally there are moral dilemmas. But the lasting impression, implied in the subtitle and enhanced by the fluency of the tale, is of inevitability.

New Statesman

A concise and very readable overview of the human chain reaction that began in 1896 with the innocent observation that uranium salts could fog a photographic plate and culminated half a century later in the most potent weapon the world had ever seen.

Washington Post