Brighter than a Thousand Suns (book)

Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists,[1] by Austrian Robert Jungk, is the first published account of the Manhattan Project and the German atomic bomb project.


The book studied the making and dropping of the atomic bomb from the viewpoints of the atomic scientists. The book is largely based on personal interviews with persons who played leading parts in the construction and deployment of the bombs.

In 1956 the book was published in German by Alfred Scherz Verlag with the title Heller als tausend Sonnen. James Cleugh translated it into English, and it was published in 1958 by Harcourt, Brace and Company.

The book's title is based on the verse from the Bhagavad Gita that J. Robert Oppenheimer is said to have recalled at the Trinity nuclear test.[2]


Later in life, Robert Jungk no longer stood behind some portions of his book. He accused Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, whom he interviewed for the book, of misleading him, and Werner Heisenberg of confirming von Weizsäcker's claims:

I accuse a few [eyewitnesses], who even today are respected by the public, of conscious distortion of history by means of deliberate misrepresentations and — I do not even hesitate to use this devastating word — the occasional lie. [...] It was Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker who described to me very forcefully that the German scientists did not want to build the atomic bomb. At that time he used the expression 'passivists' to describe this circle of people.[3]

The English translation of Jungk's book and all subsequent German editions contain an excerpt of a letter from Heisenberg to Jungk that implicitly confirms his stand.[4]

In a 1967 interview, the military head of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves, said:

I wouldn’t place any reliance on anything in that book Brighter than the Suns. For example, he gave quotes attributed to me that were the direct opposite of what I had given him. He did that with everybody he talked to. I’d say that he was thoroughly discredited in the eyes of everybody who knew him.[5]

See also


  1. Originally published in German: Heller als tausend Sonnen. Das Schicksal der Atomforscher (Stuttgart, 1956)
  2. Robert Jungk (1958), Brighter than a thousand suns: a personal history of the atomic scientists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 978-0-15-614150-5, p.201
  3. Mark Walker, Physics and Propaganda: Werner Heisenberg's Foreign Lectures under National Socialism, Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences,Vol. 22, No. 2 (1992), pp. 339-389 (on JStor).
  4. Jungk, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, New York, 1958, pp. 102–104.
  5. Ermenc (ed), Joseph J (1989). Atomic Bomb Scientists: Memoirs, 1939-1945. Westport, CT & London: Meckler. p. 249. ISBN 0-88736-267-2.

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