Usually histories of the nuclear project at Los Alamos, N.M., during World War II dwell on tensions between the military officers overseeing the project and the physicists doing the necessary research. In this striking study, James L. Nolan Jr. looks at the disquieting participation of members of a third profession, medicine…[A] powerful and readable book.
-- Thomas E. Ricks New York Times Book Review
An admirable account of the central role of physicians in the Manhattan Project and its aftermath…Nolan’s skillful weaving of his grandfather’s story into an account of the pressures exerted on medical ethics by time, place, and circumstance makes for compelling reading.
-- Jonathan D. Moreno American Scientist
Through a many-layered story of people making momentous decisions under the most trying of circumstances, James Nolan plumbs deep questions about science and technology, medicine and war. Atomic Doctors is a special achievement—an important work of scholarship that is also a gripping and moving read.
-- Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows and The Glass Cage
Fascinating and disturbing, Atomic Doctors provides a behind-the-scenes view of the birth of the bomb. It’s a crucial addition to the literature of the atomic age. It also raises essential questions about science, society, and the moral compromises made in their service.
-- Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
James Nolan combines a compelling narrative of his grandfather’s experiences on the Manhattan Project with illuminating history and a morally sensitive account of medical dilemmas at a time of national crisis. Atomic Doctors is a profound and important book.
-- Mary Ann Glendon, author of The Forum and the Tower
What did it mean to have a calling as a physician in the making and use of the atomic bomb at the dawn of the nuclear age? James Nolan tells a riveting story of his grandfather and other physicians associated with the Manhattan Project, all of whom were faced with determining their allegiance to the Hippocratic ideal of primum non nocere (first, do no harm) while interacting with both scientists and soldiers intent on creating an atomic weapon that they believed would end the war. Nolan’s historical account is also a brilliant sociological assessment of the abiding tensions among these very different constituencies and of a cultural belief in the blessings of technology that continue to define modern life and its discontents.
-- Jonathan B. Imber, author of Trusting Doctors
Describe[s] how American doctors became connected to troubling events during World War II that raised thorny moral issues around medicine and war.
-- Lawrence D. Freedman Foreign Affairs
A disturbing account of the early years of the atomic bomb, when safety took second place to winning World War II…Haunting…A solid narrative of America’s painful introduction to atomic radiation.
-- Kirkus Reviews
This fine-grained and lucidly written account illuminates a little-known aspect of America’s nuclear history.
-- Publishers Weekly
James L. Nolan’s Atomic Doctors: Conscience and Complicity at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age focuses on the role of his grandfather James F. Nolan (1915–83) as a research physician in the unfolding drama of developing a nuclear bomb…[Nolan] clarifies important historical facts and opens an interdisciplinary academic discourse about the role of nuclear technology in American society. This approach makes the meticulously researched publication, perfectly placed seventy-five years after the Trinity test, a very readable book, despite its tragic subject. It gives a truthful insight into the complexity of a physician’s conscience and complicity at the dawn of the nuclear age.
-- Eva Castringius H-Net Reviews
Nolan's Atomic Doctors is a splendid, valuable, and necessary book.
-- Leo van Bergen Medicine, Conflict and Survival
That the military acted to deal with the medical concerns about radiation only when faced with legal pressure or loss of face is also an all too modern concept for not just the military but society…There is much for a reader to take away from the book regarding history and ethics.
-- Lt. Col. Scott C. Martin, USAF Air & Space Power Journal
As the grandson of the protagonist of the book, James L. Nolan, Jr. crafts a stunning narrative, in which personal accounts and family experiences are successfully amalgamated with academic rigor, situated within a large historical framework…Offer[s] counter-narratives that shed new insight into the dominant narrative of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
-- Yuki Miyamoto Western Historical Quarterly
Provides valuable historical background on the longstanding efforts to protect human health and the environment and understand the effects of radiation exposure…A must-read for anyone interested in understanding the history of nuclear research, weapons development and testing.
-- Eric Boyle, Office of Legacy Management, US Department of Energy
Illuminates how Dr. Nolan at Los Alamos and two physician colleagues, Louis Hempelmann and Stafford Warren, dealt with the frightening human effects of nuclear radiation from the bomb. Combining an effective analysis of their efforts with a compelling telling of Dr. Nolan’s own story, the book enlarges America’s atomic bomb experience as a case study of truly disruptive technology in war and society.
-- Sidney Perkowitz Science Sketches
Carefully researched and engagingly written…As Nolan concludes, the willingness of health professionals—including physicians—to do the military’s bidding, and to condone experiments that were ‘technically sweet’ but ethically dubious, means that ‘the long shadow of the Manhattan Project…is still with us.
-- Gregg Herken California History
This story, full of both poignant family life and the challenges of working at remote U.S. military locations, is a tale worth reading not only for the historical value, but also to illustrate the dilemma that radiation posed to US leadership and downward through the ranks to the medical personnel…Highly recommended.
-- Mark L. Maiello Journal of Nuclear Materials Management
It is hard to imagine a more appropriate author for this impressive work of scholarship and interpretation than [Nolan]…It is an eminently readable history of the early years of the atomic age, presented as a case study that raises broader questions about the relationship between technological determinism and human freedom.
-- Rachelle Linner Technology and Society