An unflinching examination of the moral and professional dilemmas faced by physicians who took part in the Manhattan Project. After his father died, James L. Nolan, Jr., took possession of a box of private family materials. To his surprise, the small secret archive contained a treasure trove of information about his grandfather's role as a doctor in the Manhattan Project. Dr. Nolan, it turned out, had been a significant figure. A talented ob-gyn radiologist, he cared for the scientists on the project, organized safety and evacuation plans for the Trinity test at Alamogordo, escorted the Little Boy bomb from Los Alamos to the Pacific Islands, and was one of the first Americans to enter the irradiated ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Participation on the project challenged Dr. Nolan's instincts as a healer. He and his medical colleagues were often conflicted, torn between their duty and desire to win the war and their oaths to protect life. Atomic Doctors follows these physicians as they sought to maximize the health and safety of those exposed to nuclear radiation, all the while serving leaders determined to minimize delays and maintain secrecy. Called upon both to guard against the harmful effects of radiation and to downplay its hazards, doctors struggled with the ethics of ending the deadliest of all wars using the most lethal of all weapons. Their work became a very human drama of ideals, co-optation, and complicity. A vital and vivid account of a largely unknown chapter in atomic history, Atomic Doctors is a profound meditation on the moral dilemmas that ordinary people face in extraordinary times.
This fine-grained and lucidly written account illuminates a little-known aspect of America's nuclear history. * Publishers Weekly * 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 * 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 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 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 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