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.

The Books I Picked & Why

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The Making of the Atomic Bomb

By Richard Rhodes,

Book cover of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Why 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.

The Invention That Changed the World

By Robert Buderi,

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 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.

Von Braun

By Michael J. Neufeld,

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

Why 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.

Operation Paperclip

By Annie Jacobsen,

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

Why 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.

American Prometheus

By Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin,

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

Why 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.

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