Michael Joseloff Wins Peace Corps Writers Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award 2019 (Tunisia)
Chasing Heisenberg: The Race for the Atom Bomb
By Michael Joseloff (Tunisia 1967-69)
Michael Joseloff (Tunisia 1967-69) over the course of his career worked at PBS, CBS News, ABC News and several cable TV networks and won four Emmys, among other awards. His interest in the atom bomb dates back to 1993 when he produced a segment on J. Robert Oppenheimer, Scientific Director of The Manhattan Project, for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
He continued reading about America’s race to beat Hitler to the bomb after that, hoping to find new subject matter for a documentary.
Several years ago he came across an old photograph in an online archive. The photo, taken shortly before the start of World War II, showed Werner Heisenberg, future architect of Germany’s atomic research program, standing alongside his good friend Enrico Fermi, soon to become a top Manhattan Project scientist. He had found what he was looking for. Inspired by their story of former friends turned bitter enemies, Joseloff decided to write “Chasing Heisenberg.”
After a devastating run of German victories, Allied troops are beginning to halt Hitler’s advance. But far from the battlefields, Allied scientists are struggling. Intelligence reports put them a distant second behind the Germans in a competition that could determine the outcome of the war: the race to build the world’s first nuclear weapon. For the Allies’ top scientists, the race is deeply personal. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Samuel Goudsmit have known Hitler’s chief atomic scientist, Werner Heisenberg, for years. A brilliant, world-renowned physicist and once a good friend, he’s anti-Nazi but also a loyal German. Fear that he’s put country first and is building a bomb haunts Oppenheimer and Fermi all through their months and years developing the Allied bomb. That same anxiety drives Goudsmit, now a top Allied intelligence officer, to risk his life as he attempts to track down Heisenberg and the site of Hitler’s suspected atom bomb program.
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