Book Review: Churchill’s Bomb by Graham Farmelo

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Have you ever wondered why Winston Churchill does not get more opprobrium for failing to capitalize on the talent pool (particularly the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany) in Britain and doing more to support the development of the atomic bomb? Neither have I. Then I received this book for review. Churchill’s Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race purports to explain why and how Winston Churchill failed to support nuclear research into a bomb despite being one of the weapons prophets in the 20s and 30s and subsequently let the United States win the nuclear race.

The book itself has 457 pages of text divided into four lengthy chronological chapters. It also includes a 16 page reference list, 51 pages of endnotes, and a 21 page index. It is obvious that the author spent a great deal of time and effort into researching this book. I cannot fault the level of research or Dr. Farmelo’s expertise.

I read a lot of books. I would guess that at any one time I am reading at least three different books. I have done this for over thirty years since I was in elementary school and first learned to read. As a rule, I will plow all the way through a book regardless of how bad I think it is because while I might not like a book the author put a lot of effort into writing it. In all the time I have been reading there have been less than 10 books I ever just plain quit reading. This book is one of them. I did however, manage to struggle through the first 223 pages.

What caused me to put the book down has nothing to do with the content and everything to do with the way said content was presented. I found the text to be written in a style that I cannot imagine to have been more un-compelling. The text is flat, dry, and to be brutally honest boring. Sadly, I find that I cannot recommend this book to anyone unless they have problems sleeping and are seeking a more effective non-pharmaceutical sleep aid than Tolstoy.

The story of Britain’s acquisition of Hydrogen Bombs is a story worth telling. Unfortunately, this is not the book to tell that tale without an extensive rewrite to make the narrative a more compelling read. There is no doubt that the story is important to understanding British policies during WWII and the early Cold War era.

A Final Note: I am merely reviewing the book from the perspective of an avid history buff & scholar that is always disappointed when an important and interesting topic is presented in an uninteresting manner. This is only the third negative review I have written of the 87 book reviews I have posted on this site in the past 3 1/2 years.


It is my policy to always give the authors of books I review negatively a chance to respond to the review.  Below is Dr. Farmelo’s response:

‘I am grateful to Mr Shrier for so graciously enabling me to reply to his notice. I regret that he found ‘Churchill’s Bomb’ less than compelling – this is the first time a reviewer has publicly made such a comment, so far as I know. Rather more typical is the opinion of Lisa Jardine in the Financial Times, who found the ‘story as gripping as it is elegantly argued’. Many other reviews are available for scrutiny at and I hope these assessments will encourage readers of Mr Shrier’s blog to  read the book.’

1 thought on “Book Review: Churchill’s Bomb by Graham Farmelo”

  1. What could Churchill do right other than douse his ailing liver in Calvados as he bombed women and children, all the while losing an empire that cost hundreds of years to build up in a single generation?

    Actually, lets not understate Eastern European’s efforts from Blechley Park. Poles did more physical fighting than the Brits and also more mental work. Rich Jews could go anywhere they wanted to in the thirties, Britain, Switzerland, America, but who would want to go to Britain, have you seen their women? Maybe that is why Freud set up couch on the Thames.

    The British gap wasn’t between their two front teeth it was in common sense trying to take down an elephant with a pack of tigers, being the smallest, wimpiest tiger of the bunch. All that was left of the carcase was going to be the bones, while the Bolsheviks ate up half of Europe. Great going, Churchill! Bravisimo.

    This is Andrew. Always provocative.

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