On a very last page of Countdown 1945 author Chris Wallace acknowledges that his book was designed to cover only the very dramatic 116 days that began on April 12, 1945 when Harry S. Truman was sworn in as the 33rd President of the United States, and ended on August 6, 1945, when the first wartime atomic explosion destroyed much of the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
I wish he’d written that in a prologue because it would have saved me from wondering why he didn’t cover this or that event or person within or before that timeframe in the center of the background scenes he sketches. It would not have mattered had I not been familiar with the story of “the bomb” since reading Richard Rhodes 1986 masterpiece, “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.”
In that book, Rhodes takes more than 800 pages of small type to tell the story that includes fine details of the science, engineering and logistics involved, the military circumstances of the time, and the personal histories of the scientists and politicians and events that made it all happen. He also relates some details of the Soviet espionage that was occurring.
Wallace tells the top lines of that same story in a mere 260 pages of large, widely spaced type. But, put that aside and you’ll see that Wallace does a very good job of presenting the story in sufficient detail, and in a lively writing style that will surely make this a popular book as we approach the 75th anniversary of the awful event that, although it killed a lot of people, is widely thought to have saved a lot more. I only wish Wallace had been crisper in the telling of that part of the story as well as describing the terrible international political situation that the invention and use of the bomb by the United States set up, and that remains a part of our daily lives today.
But don’t miss the book. There is a lot of facts in it, no mythology that I could detect, and trained newsman Wallace is a fine storyteller. If you want to invest a little more time in your understanding of this massive world-changing story, pick up Rhodes’ book . . . I’m thinking of a long-overdue re-read of that one!