The best books on how science won World War Two

Jacob Berkowitz Author Of The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars
By Jacob Berkowitz

Who am I?

I’m an author, playwright and science writer near Ottawa, Canada. One thing that fascinated me in writing The Stardust Revolution was how 20th-century astronomy advances were grounded in the re-use of military technologies developed in WWII. Both radio- and infrared astronomy emerged from the use of former Nazi and Allied military hardware. This is because WWII was the physicists war—their inventions determined its outcome. These five books describe the key science and technology—atomic weapons, radar, and rockets—that won World War Two and have shaped the world since. The books are a great mix of biography, narrative non-fiction, and investigative journalism.

I wrote...

The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

By Jacob Berkowitz,

Book cover of The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

What is my book about?

Three great scientific revolutions have shaped our understanding of the cosmos and our relationship to it. The Copernican Revolution, which bodychecked the Earth as the pivot point of creation and joined us with the rest of the cosmos as one planet among many orbiting the Sun. Then, the second great scientific revolution: the Darwinian Revolution. It removed us from a distinct, divine biological status to place us wholly in the ebb and flow of all terrestrial life. This book describes how we're in the midst of a third great scientific revolution: The Stardust Revolution.

The Stardust Revolution takes readers on a grand journey that begins on the summit of California's Mount Wilson, where astronomers first realized that the universe is both expanding and evolving, to a radio telescope used to identify how organic molecules-the building blocks of life are made by stars.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Why did I love this book?

The invention of the A-bomb was the most intensive, expensive, and extensive weapons development program in history. Rhodes’ book is a magisterial, gripping telling of this story—from nascent ideas to the terrors of Nagasaki. Pulitzer prize-winner, it’s essential reading to understand the birth of today’s big science.

By Richard Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Making of the Atomic Bomb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a brand new introduction from the author, this is the complete story of how the bomb was developed. It is told in rich, human, political, and scientific detail, from the turn-of-the-century discovery of the vast energy locked inside the atom to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan. Few great discoveries have evolved so swiftly -- or have been so misunderstood. From the theoretical discussions of nuclear energy to the bright glare of Trinity there was a span of hardly more than twenty-five years. What began as merely an interesting speculative problem in physics grew into the Manhattan…

Book cover of The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution

Why did I love this book?

To paraphrase Buderi, radar won the war, the atomic bomb ended it. This isn’t hyperbole. Rushed into service, radar saved Britain from invasion in the summer of 1941 and was a decisive tool in every major theatre of war, from directing night bombers to attacking U-boats.

By Robert Buderi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Invention That Changed the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Simon & Schuster, The Invention That Changed the World explores how a small group of radar pioneers won the second World War and launched a technical revolution.

The technology that was created to win World War II—radar—has revolutionized the modern world. This is the fascinating story of the inventors and their inventions.

Book cover of Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War

Why did I love this book?

In the 1910s little Werner von Braun dreamed of going to the Moon. In this remarkable biography, we read how his life-long, singular ambition led him to become the Nazi’s head rocket builder—and then the NASA engineer who created the Saturn V rockets that carried Americans to the Moon.

By Michael J. Neufeld,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Von Braun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Curator and space historian at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum delivers a brilliantly nuanced biography of controversial space pioneer Wernher von Braun.

Chief rocket engineer of the Third Reich and one of the fathers of the U.S. space program, Wernher von Braun is a source of consistent fascination. Glorified as a visionary and vilified as a war criminal, he was a man of profound moral complexities, whose intelligence and charisma were coupled with an enormous and, some would say, blinding ambition. Based on new sources, Neufeld's biography delivers a meticulously researched and authoritative portrait of the creator of…

Book cover of Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America

Why did I love this book?

Von Braun was one of the hundreds of Nazi scientists hunted by the Americans in the dying days of the war and brought to the U.S. to continue their research—on everything from nerve toxins to human experimentation. Heavily researched and detailed, the book’s a chilling read and ethical challenge.

By Annie Jacobsen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Operation Paperclip as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the chaos following WWII, many of Germany's remaining resources were divvied up among allied forces. Some of the greatest spoils were the Third Reich's scientific minds--the minds that made their programs in aerospace and rocketry the best in the world. The United States secretly decided that the value of these former Nazis' forbidden knowledge outweighed their crimes, and the government formed a covert organization called Operation Paperclip to allow them to work without the knowledge of the American public.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with dozens of Paperclip family members, with access to German archival documents (including, notably, papers available…

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

Why did I love this book?

What thanks do you get for building the weapon that makes the U.S. the world’s military superpower? Physicist Robert Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project, inventing the atomic bomb. This compelling biography reveals he was later demonized, too complicated a man to simply wear the label patriot in Cold War-era America.

By Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked American Prometheus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Physicist and polymath, 'father of the atom bomb' J. Robert Oppenheimer was the most famous scientist of his generation. Already a notable young physicist before WWII, during the race to split the atom, 'Oppie' galvanized an extraordinary team of international scientists while keeping the FBI at bay. As the man who more than any other inaugurated the atomic age, he became one of the iconic figures of the last century, the embodiment of his own observation that 'physicists have known sin'.

Years later, haunted by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer became a staunch opponent of plans to develop the hydrogen bomb.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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