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Atomic Quest: A Personal Narrative by Arthur Holly Compton (119,000 words, 24 illustrations)

As director of the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago, Arthur Holly Compton was a major participant in the research, production and testing of the first atomic bombs. In this memoir, he tells the story of the bomb’s development from the presentation of the project to President Roosevelt, through its planning, research, and building phases, to its use against Japan. From the perspective of the key position he held during World War II, Compton describes the project as a large-scale group effort leveraging the knowledge and talents of numerous scientists, industrialists and administrators all working as part of their nation’s war effort. Atomic Quest was a finalist for the National Book Awards for Nonfiction in 1957.

“An absorbing and eminently readable account... packed with new information, enlivened with precious detail and illuminating insights into the minds and personalities of the chief actors in the drama... Mr. Compton tells, and tells well, the story of how, with his unflagging encouragement, the brilliant team under the late Enrico Fermi brought about the first nuclear chain reaction... [an] important book.” — Henry Guerlac,
The New York Times Book Review

“This book... is without doubt the most authoritative source available on many aspects of the atomic bomb project... Better than in most histories the real factors underlying one of mankind’s most important developments are set forth in this work... The story is a personal one, which... gives the book a Churchillian authenticity... No historian will ever dare to neglect this volume in writing the history of World War II. It is beautifully written, carefully documented, and thoroughly interesting from cover to cover.” — W.F. Libby,

“For those who were in the project, it will mean many recollections. For those who were not, it should give an inkling of the character and capacity of many of the individuals, including Arthur Compton, who made success possible.” —
Lieutenant General Leslie R. Groves, U.S. Army (Retired)

Atomic Quest is an absorbingly interesting story of the people who blazed the trail into the atomic frontier... In a lifetime filled with brilliant accomplishments, Arthur Compton’s four-year leadership in the quest for the atomic bomb was his grandest achievement... It is fortunate indeed that he returned to the fold long enough to set down in Atomic Quest a story that only he could tell.” — Richard L. Doan, American Journal of Physics

“Dr. Compton is a thinking man whose reflections range far beyond the confines of his scientific work: indeed, the distinctive quality of his book lies in his ability to reconcile the atomic bomb and similar operations with his belief as a practicing Christian.” — John Barkham,
Saturday Review Syndicate

“It should be required reading for every American, for the free world... The narrative alone makes the book worth reading; its hopeful philosophy makes it mandatory reading.” — Robert S. Kleckner,
Chicago Sunday Tribune

“As... director of the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project, Dr. Compton has an important record to add to the annals of the beginning of the Atomic Age, for his was a personal and intimate connection with it.” —

“A leading physicist’s personal account of the wartime developments in atomic energy, culminating in the production of the atomic bomb.” — Henry L. Roberts,
Foreign Affairs

“Informal, anecdotal, packed with behind-the-scenes incidents and impressions... arrestingly interesting.” — George W. Gray,
The Saturday Review

“The most controversial part of the book is that which endeavors to foresee the future of a world faced with the threat of war with nuclear weapons and the inevitable widespread destruction that will accompany their use. Compton is convinced that war has actually thereby become obsolescent.” — Robert Bruce Lindsay,
Physics Today

“This book... is written for the layman, in clear, everyday English... it answers the questions that have arisen in the minds of all intelligent people concerning the physical, moral, social and religious implications of the Atomic Age which was so brutally and vividly thrust upon the world in 1945.” — Paul Jordan-Smith,
Los Angeles Times