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What was the first hydrogen bomb like? Participant recounts history & physics of development

World Scientific


IMAGE: This is the cover of 'Building the H-Bomb.' view more

Credit: World Scientific, 2015

Kenneth Ford, renowned for his popular books on quantum physics, has published his latest book entitled "Building the H Bomb : A Personal History" with World Scientific.

The book looks back more than sixty years to a time when Ford was a member of the team of physicists who designed the United States' first hydrogen bomb. Then in his mid-twenties, Ford worked closely with - and socialized with - giants of that period such as Edward Teller, Enrico Fermi, John Wheeler, Stan Ulam, and John von Neumann.

Partly a charming memoir of Ford's experiences both inside and outside the security fences as he worked toward the super weapon, the book also goes beyond the anecdotal. It provides a carefully researched look at the people and the scientific effort and explains the underlying physics of fission and fusion and radiation with the simple clarity for which he is known.

Ford writes candidly of his own choice to join the H-bomb effort, and makes no apologies. The world has been a safer place, he argues, because the United States achieved this ultimate weapon before the Soviet Union did. In an epilogue, he discusses the impact, years later, of the Vietnam War on his thinking about secret military research.

Renowned for his ability to explain physics to nonspecialists, Ford also brings to life the physics of fission and fusion and provides a brief history of nuclear science from the discovery of radioactivity in 1896 to the ten-megaton explosion of "Mike" that obliterated a Pacific Island in 1952. Ford worked at both Los Alamos and Princeton's Project Matterhorn, and brings out Matterhorn's major, but previously unheralded contribution to the development of the H bomb.

Outside the lab, he drove a battered Chevrolet around New Mexico, a bantam motorcycle across the country, and a British roadster around New Jersey. Part of the charm of Ford's book is the way in which he leavens his well-researched descriptions of the scientific work with brief tales of his life away from weapons.

The book's fifty illustrations enrich the text by bringing to life the people and the places discussed in the text.

Even after sixty-plus years, some of the information on the first H bomb remains secret. Ford worked hard to avoid revealing secret information in the book. He is confident that the book contains nothing that could harm the United States or aid its adversaries.

Ford calls his book a three-stranded braid: history, memoir, and physics.


This book has been published by World Scientific. It is sold at major book stores for US$58 / £38 (hardcover) and US$24 / £16 (paperback). More information on the book and the electronic version are available at

About World Scientific Publishing

World Scientific Publishing is a leading independent publisher of books and journals for the scholarly, research and professional communities. The company publishes about 500 books annually and more than 120 journals in various fields. World Scientific collaborates with prestigious organisations like the Nobel Foundation, US National Academies Press, as well as its subsidiary, the Imperial College Press, amongst others, to bring high quality academic and professional content to researchers and academics worldwide. To find out more about World Scientific, please visit

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