More than seventy years ago, the world changed forever when American forces exploded the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, starting a massive firestorm that would kill some 80,000 enemy civilians. Three days later, the US exploded a second bomb over Nagasaki, killing another 40,000. Though the bombs did not end the war, they contributed urgently to the Japanese decision to surrender and demonstrated to the world the vast destructive power of a revolutionary new weapon.
“Little Boy” and “Fat Man” originated in March 1943 when a group of young scientists, sequestered on a mesa near Santa Fe, attended a crash course in the new weapons technology. The lecturer was physicist Robert Serber, J. Robert Oppenheimer's protégé, and they learned that their job was to design and build the world's first atomic bombs. Notes on Serber's lecture, nicknamed the "Los Alamos Primer," were mimeographed and passed from hand to hand. They remained classified for decades after the war. Published for the first time in 1992, the Primer offers contemporary readers a better understanding of the origins of nuclear weapons. Serber’s preface, an informal memoir, vividly conveys the mingled excitement, uncertainty, and intensity felt by the Manhattan Project scientists. Now, 75 years since the bombs shocked the world, an updated foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Rhodes offers a brief history of the development of nuclear physics up to the day when Serber stood before his blackboard at Los Alamos.
A seminal publication on a turning point in human history, The Los Alamos Primer reveals just how much was known and how terrifyingly much was unknown midway through the Manhattan Project. No other seminar anywhere has had greater historical consequences.